World No Tobacco Day 2020: How COVID-19 has affected tobacco consumption

Christie Syndor & Ojaswin Kathuria 
Sunday, 31 May 2020

Every year on May 31, World No Tobacco Day is observed to raise awareness about the harmful effects that tobacco causes as millions of people die every day because of its consumption.

"The lockdown has pushed me to move back in with my parents, and ever since, I haven't stepped out, and I can't smoke at home. This entire situation has led me to 'pseudo-quit' smoking," said a 26-year-old from Chandigarh, who didn't want to be named.

In the current scenario, smokers are more susceptible to contract the coronavirus owing to their vulnerable conditions of lungs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this applies to smoke-less consumption as well. Since the use of smokeless tobacco often involves some contact from hand to mouth. This puts almost 267 million, or 29 per cent, of the tobacco consuming population at a higher risk.

A new research, published in the Developmental Cell journal, indicates that cigarette smoke spurs the lungs to produce more ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2), the protein that the COVID-19 coronavirus catches and uses to invade human cells and make them more vulnerable to serious infections.

World anti-tobacco day 2020 comes with a warning to avoid the consumption of tobacco in all forms. Doctors from around the world have strongly urged to avoid the habit even after the lockdown ends as the COVID-19 will remain a threat for a more extended period; which in turn will cause co-morbidities in the tobacco consuming population if the virus is contracted.

LifeFirst, an anti-tobacco foundation based in Mumbai conducted a study on smoking habits 650 people and found out that 38% of the population has quit smoking during the COVID-19 lockdown.


Ayaz Sheikh, 47, a businessman based in Mumbai has been trying to quit smoking since a while now, "I have been a smoker for past 15 years, but now I wanted to quit because of health complications." Sheikh says that he was able to curb his smoking urges and hasn't touched a cigarette in the last 57 days since the lockdown has restricted him from going out. "My wife bought me nicotine chewing gums a while back, now owing to the lockdown I am finally using it," he added.

A recent poll by the Foundation for the smoke-free world explores the relationship between COVID-19 social distance and health among 6,801 users of tobacco and nicotine in five countries (US, UK, Italy, South Africa, and India). The survey released found that more than two-thirds of the respondents rely on tobacco and nicotine as their primary tool for managing stress and anxiety. Nearly 40 per cent of smokers have increased their use of these products in recent weeks, which could be tantamount to increased use by over 50 million smokers in the five countries polled.

Prerit, a 34-year-old web designer based in Gurugram, had completely quit smoking before the lockdown. However, the work-related stress, combined with the current situation, has pushed him to fall back into his old habits. "With work from home there is little space left to follow a routine, given the stress of my job which requires me to work on the clock, I can't help but manage it by lighting a cigarette."

The current situation, throughout the world, has significantly been stressful for everyone. People who fall back on tobacco-related products to manage their stress and anxiety have been experiencing significant changes in their consumption. While some have cut back on their use, others are falling deeper into the habit. 

Given the fact that tobacco users are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing related complications, it is important now than ever before to motivate people and help them find healthy stress coping mechanisms. Thus, creating a way for them to quit unhealthy habits.

World No Tobacco Day

Every year on May 31 World No Tobacco Day is observed to raise awareness about the harmful effects that tobacco causes as millions of people die every day because of its consumption.

In 1988, the WHO launched the awareness campaign about the harmful effects of tobacco under resolution WHA42.19 passed by the World Health Assembly. And now, the day is celebrated worldwide as 'No Tobacco Day' to raise awareness and inspire youth to quit tobacco use.

WHO's global campaign

This day is celebrated with a different theme each year to keep up with a constant magnitude of change that the campaign demands over the years. "Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use" is the theme for 2020.

WHO is launching a campaign to counter-marketing and encourage young people to fight 'big tobacco,' aimed at debunking myths and exposing tactics of manipulation employed by tobacco and related industries, equipping young people with knowledge of tobacco and related industries.

WHO is also urging influencers - who reach and connect with youth in pop culture, social networking, home or the school - to expose the manipulating tactics of the industry to build a new generation of tobacco users. We must empower young people to confront Big Tobacco by removing their lies and rejecting the use of its goods.

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