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Tips for quitting tobacco during times of stress

The COVID-19 pandemic is motivating some tobacco-users to quit amid concerns that they may be at higher risk of getting sick from the virus. Since this is also a time of heightened stress and anxiety, some may also have concerns that this could be an especially hard time to quit.

While it’s true that stress can present challenges for tobacco users who are trying to quit or want to start, these challenges are manageable, especially if you know the facts about tobacco and stress. And it’s critically important that tobacco users quit now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named smoking as a risk factor for developing severe illness from COVID-19 because it can compromise the immune system. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration has stated that "people who smoke cigarettes may be at increased risk of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, and may have worse outcomes from COVID-19.” There is also growing evidence that vaping can harm lung health. 

Conversations are circulating among the EX Community on BecomeAnEx®, a digital quit-smoking program developed by Truth Initiative® in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, about heightened stress and anxiety during this time.

“Members of our EX community have expressed anxiety, worry and stress related to their health concerns,” said Megan Jacobs, managing director of product at Truth Initiative®, who helped lead a recent webinar on the impact of COVID-19 for tobacco users. She added that some are “even voicing that they fear they are being deprioritized because they either are or have been tobacco users.” Other current or former tobacco users have also expressed guilt or shame from wheezing or labored breathing in public, which can cause additional stress.

Quitting tobacco is one of the best ways to protect health and stressful circumstances do not have to stand in the way. Here are some important things to know about quitting during times of stress.

Smoking is not an effective way to cope with stress

Does smoking help with stress

“Smoking may actually increase smokers’ perceived control over their stressors” and they “may perceive that smoking or any other tobacco use is an effective way to cope or deal with anxiety,” says Jacobs. Though tobacco users often turn to tobacco to cope with anxiety and relax, smoking does not actually decrease stress.

Most users can experience relief of stress and anxiety when they initially start smoking, but regular consumption of nicotine can lead to brain changes, especially in young people, and can ultimately worsen anxiety and irritability. Over time, smokers may experience mood fluctuations and daily stress as a result of nicotine dependence.  

Studies show quitting smoking can decrease stress within two weeks

Quitting smoking reduces stress

Contrary to common misconceptions, research shows that quitting tobacco improves mental health.

Studies have shown that smoking cessation is associated with reduced, stress, anxiety and depression. Although withdrawal symptoms from nicotine – such as depression and anxiety – can mask the improvements from a quit attempt, nicotine replacement therapy can help people quit by reducing these symptoms.

Digital programs are especially helpful now

online help to quit smoking

Digital programs are particularly useful at this time because people can engage when and where they need. And research shows that digital programs work. In fact, studies have shown that BecomeAnEX quadruples a smoker’s chances for quitting. Research has also found that smokers who became more socially connected on BecomeAnEX were significantly less likely to be smoking three months after enrollment.

Here are some of the services BecomeAnEX provides:

  • Social support, without leaving home: Tobacco users looking to quit can find constant, around-the-clock social support from others across all stages of their quitting journey without leaving home.
  • EX Community Groups and tagged content: COVID-19 and coronavirus are tagged for groups dedicated to conversations around these topics.
  • Chats have evolved: People within the community are spending more time checking in one another – not just on quitting but on day-to-day life during these challenging times.

Learn more about BecomeAnEX and our other quitting programs at BecomeAnEX is also the foundation for the EX Program, our enterprise quit program for employers and health plans to help their employees, members and their families. For more information, download the EX Program tip sheet “COVID-19: How to Help Tobacco Users Quit and Stay Quit When Stress Skyrockets.”