Smoking and coronavirus – tobacco sales soar worldwide as experts urge ‘now is the moment to stop’

STRESS and boredom are two well-known triggers for lighting up, factors which are more and more prevalent during the current lengthy period of confinement in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sales of tobacco have shot up since the outbreak, though the industry has stressed this does not necessarily mean more people are smoking, smokers are more likely stocking up in preparation for several more weeks in lockdown.

“If you are a smoker, you are pretty addicted to this stuff and if you are worried you won’t be able to get it, then you will stockpile,” Adam Spielman, an analyst at Citi, a banking service providing relief through funds to frontline healthcare workers, told Financial Times.

The biggest tobacco producers have recorded huge sales in the first quarter of 2020.
So far this year, Marlboro is the most valuable tobacco brand of choice in the world, with a brand value of almost €30.5 billion. L&M, which ranked second, has a brand value of just over €5.5 billion.

Tobacconists remain open in Spain, classed as a ‘necessity,’ maintaining an industry which currently sells 2.2 billion packs of cigarettes annually.

In the UK, sales of tobacco products increased by 9 per cent in the third week of March compared to the same period in 2019, according to global data analysis firm, Nielsen.

The rise is in contrast with a 1 per cent fall in the 12 months to March, compared with the same period a year earlier, as health-conscious smokers reportedly quit or switched to reduced-risk products such as vaping devices and oral tobacco.

Nielsen said purchases of nicotine-replacement products increased by 5 per cent year-on-year, but soared by 54 per cent in the third week of March compared with the same period a year earlier.

Since the restriction of movement in France, tobacconists have recorded an ‘explosion in sales,’ with a 30 per cent rise overall, but in some cities close to the borders, such as Menton, the increase is estimated to be more than 400 per cent.

The federation of tobacconists say a factor that might encourage smokers to consume more is ‘the stress of confinement.’

But health experts and associations claim now is as good a time as ever to pack up.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to Covid-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth.

Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which greatly increases the risk of serious illness.

WHO says “conditions that increase oxygen needs or reduce the ability of the body to use it properly will put patients at higher risk of serious lung conditions such as pneumonia.”

UK’s Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock, who himself has tested positive for Covid-19, said recently “it is abundantly clear from the research into previous coronaviruses that smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse.”

His words echo the advice of the Chief Medical Officer who said “if you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it.” And many GPs are urging patients to #QuitforCovid.

With the spotlight on the industry amid a health pandemic, major players have turned their attention to helping combat the spread rather than focusing on products that pose a health risk.

British American Tobacco, the maker of brands including Lucky Strike, Dunhill, Rothmans and Benson & Hedges, said it has a potential coronavirus vaccine in development using tobacco plants.

“If testing goes well, BAT is hopeful that, with the right partners and support from government agencies, between one and three million doses of the vaccine could be manufactured per week, beginning in June,” the company said, adding “tobacco plants offer the potential for faster and safer vaccine development compared with conventional methods.”

In America, the New York State Academy of Family Physicians is asking for a temporary ban on sales of tobacco and vaping products amid the coronavirus outbreak, citing studies and theories that say smokers who get the virus fare much worse than non-smokers who get it.

And a recent study from Wuhan, China, found that patients with the virus who reported smoking or a history of smoking were 14 times more likely to see their illness progress, and as a result, require more time in hospital or have long-term damage.

Meanwhile, the E-cigarette kits market is expected to register a growth rate of 8.4 per cent for the forecast period of 2020 to 2027. Growing demand for flavoured e-cigarettes and the low cost of the disposable models of e-cigarettes is expected to enhance the growth.

Some of the other factors such as rising health consciousness among smoking population, growing popularity of e-cigarettes, growing number of vape shops and designated shops, and rising eco-friendliness of e-cigarettes are expected to accelerate the e-cigarette kits market.

*Smokers and healthcare professionals can get further advice and support about quitting from

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

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Written by

Tara Rippin

Tara Rippin is a reporter for Spain’s largest English-speaking newspaper, Euro Weekly News, and is responsible for the Costa Blanca region.
She has been in journalism for more than 20 years, having worked for local newspapers in the Midlands, UK, before relocating to Spain in 1990.
Since arriving, the mother-of-one has made her home on the Costa Blanca, while spending 18 months at the EWN head office in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol.
She loves being part of a community that has a wonderful expat and Spanish mix, and strives to bring the latest and most relevant news to EWN’s loyal and valued readers.

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