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Smokers, former smokers, never smokers and vapers: a survey by the COEHAR explains their behavior during the lockdown

Jun 17, 2020

The findings from a survey conducted by COEHAR researchers on almost 2000 participants showed a slight decrease in the consumption of cigarettes during the lockdown period and an increase in the purchase of products such as cigarettes and e-liquids.


60 million of Italians have had to adapt to social distancing and stay-at-home policies following the spread of COVID-19. The researchers of the COEHAR, leaded by Prof. Pasquale Caponnetto, in partnership with the University of Rome “Sapienza” and LIAF Italian Anti-Smoking League, published on the international magazine Health Psychology Research the study “Smoking behavior and psychological dynamics during COVID-19 social distancing and stay-at-home policies: A survey”, based on an online brief questionnaire, first of its kind, that was aimed at surveying smoking behavior and psychological dynamics of 1825 participants during the Phase 1 of the lockdown in Italy.

Participants were divide in seven subgroups: exclusive cigarettes smokers, dual users of cigarettes and e-cigarette, dual users of cigarettes and heated tobacco products, former smokers, exclusive users of e-cigarette, exclusive users of heated tobacco products and never smokers.

The first data to be observed is that of the declared slight decrease in the consumption of cigarettes, because of several factors, such as the lack of the opportunities for smokers to live the usual habits related to smoking, the cohabitation with family members who do not smoke and the fear of developing severe forms of COVID-19. The second data to be observed is that of the increase in accumulation behaviors of products such as cigarettes and e-liquids.

“A behavior comparable to that of citizens who stock up foodstuffs during the lockdown- explained the psychologists Marilena Maglia and Lucio Inguscio – the fear of unavailability of essential products pushed many people to stock up on the good itself. The closure of schools, restaurants and recreational activities, as well as the important limitations in movements and social interactions, caused psychological effects such as stress, anxiety and fear, and encouraged the consolidation of negative habits, such as smoking, worsening situations of emotional and psychological instability”.

“Even prior the results of the survey- added the founder of the COEHAR, Prof. Riccardo Polosa– it was clear that a forced quarantine condition- boosting events that can trigger stress and anxiety- would have a considerable impact on the habits of smokers and vapers. Many smokers take nicotine which help easing tension, stress and anxiety. I am proud that our research team has been the first in the world to document a significant case study on how the lockdown can affect lifestyles”.

The vast majority of the participants were exclusive cigarette smoker (32%) or never smoker (30%). Former smokers were 16% and finally, exclusive user of heated tobacco products and exclusive user of electronic cigarette were respectively 4.4% and 12.3%.  

The findings of the survey showed that exclusive cigarette smokers and dual users of cigarette and e-cigarette slighlty decreased the consumption of cigarette during the lockdown; the average daily consumption of exclusive users of conventional cigarettes remained unchanged.

Even if on one hand there has been a decrease in the average daily consumption, on the other hand there has been an increase in the purchase of products which has mainly affected exclusive smokers of conventional cigarette and exclusive smokers of e-cigarette.

Furthermore, regarding the desire to quit smoking, the subgroup that reported the highest percentage is that of conventional cigarette smoker.

Eventually, the 29.7% of former smokers said that during the lockdown they would have thought to start smoking again and about 3% of those who had never smoked would have thought to start smoking mainly conventional cigarettes.

“Such a period of instability has opened the possibility for a change of human beings all over the world and it becomes a slot through which professionals will be able to promote healthy lifestyle, with limited or absent risk”, added Pasquale Caponnetto , professor of Clinical Psychology of Addiction at the Psychology Degree Course of the University of Catania.

“Although the questionnaire has experienced an higher participation among women and younger people – ended the President of the Italian Anti-smoking League, Ezio Campagna- it is interesting to note how realistic and valuable it is to start spreading the message of a healthier lifestyle, promoting smoking cessation programmes and helping former smokers to not relapse into smoking, avoiding smoking initiation for never smokers and safeguarding the new generations”.