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Smokers' cognitive and behavioural reactions during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic: Findings from the 2020 ITC Four Country Smoking and Vaping Survey

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Shannon Gravely, Lorraine V. Craig, K. Michael Cummings, Janine Ouimet, Ruth Loewen, Nadia Martin, Janet Chung-Hall, Pete Driezen, Sara C. Hitchman, Ann McNeill, Andrew Hyland, Anne C.K. Quah, Richard J. O'Connor, Ron Borland, Mary E. Thompson, Christian Boudreau, Geoffrey T. Fong

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0252427
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6 June
PublishedJun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: Funding: This study was supported by grants from the US National Cancer Institute (P01 CA200512), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (FDN-148477), the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (APP 1106451), and Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) (2021-HQ-000058). GTF was supported by a Senior Investigator Award from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (IA- 004) and the Canadian Cancer Society 2020 O. Harold Warwick Prize. RJO and AH are supported by a Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science US National Cancer Institute grant (U54 CA238110). Publisher Copyright: © 2021 Gravely et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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Introduction COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, and smoking adversely impacts the respiratory and immune systems; this confluence may therefore incentivize smokers to quit. The present study, conducted in four high-income countries during the first global wave of COVID- 19, examined the association between COVID-19 and: (1) thoughts about quitting smoking; (2) changes in smoking (quit attempt, reduced or increased smoking, or no change); and (3) factors related to a positive change (making a quit attempt or reducing smoking) based on an adapted framework of the Health Belief Model. Methods This cross-sectional study included 6870 adult smokers participating in the Wave 3 (2020) ITC Four Country Smoking and Vaping Survey conducted in Australia, Canada, England, and United States (US). These four countries had varying responses to the pandemic by governments and public health, ranging from advising voluntary social distancing to implementing national and subnational staged lockdowns. Considering these varying responses, and the differences in the number of confirmed cases and deaths (greatest in England and the US and lowest in Australia), smoking behaviours related to COVID-19 may have differed between countries. Other factors that may be related to changes in smoking because of COVID-19 were also explored (e.g., sociodemographics, nicotine dependence, perceptions about personal and general risks of smoking on COVID-19). Regression analyses were conducted on weighted data. Results Overall, 46.7% of smokers reported thinking about quitting because of COVID-19, which differed by country (p<0.001): England highest (50.9%) and Australia lowest (37.6%). Thinking about quitting smoking because of COVID-19 was more frequent among: females, ethnic minorities, those with financial stress, current vapers, less dependent smokers (non-daily and fewer cigarettes smoked/day), those with greater concern about personal susceptibility of infection, and those who believe COVID-19 is more severe for smokers. Smoking behaviour changes due to COVID-19 were: 1.1% attempted to quit, 14.2% reduced smoking, and 14.6% increased smoking (70.2% reported no change). Positive behaviour change (tried to quit/reduced smoking) was reported by 15.5% of smokers, which differed by country (p = 0.02), where Australia had significantly lower rates than the other three countries. A positive behavioural smoking change was more likely among smokers with: lower dependence, greater concern about personal susceptibility to infection, and believing that COVID-19 is more severe for smokers. Conclusions Though nearly half of smokers reported thinking about quitting because of COVID-19, the vast majority did not change their smoking behaviour. Smokers were more likely to try and quit or reduce their smoking if they had greater concern about susceptibility and severity of COVID-19 related to smoking. Smokers in Australia were least likely to reduce or try to quit smoking, which could be related to the significantly lower impact of COVID-19 during the early phase of the pandemic relative to the other countries.

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