Cigarette sales up for the first time in two decades

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 4:25 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - A new report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows cigarette sales went up in 2020 for the first time in about 20 years, and experts suggest the pandemic may be to blame.

“That is a highly addictive substance, so when we’re in increased times of stress, what do we do? We turn to our addictions, right? Because they’re soothing, they’re comforting,” said physician with Sentara Medical Group Jennifer Derby.

Derby says smoking cigarettes is harmful now more than ever because tobacco use is a risk factor for severe cases of COVID-19.

“It is so hard to quit that people will, when they’ve had strokes, when they’ve had cancers, when they’ve had heart attacks, they still have a hard time even knowing that those things are doing them harm and exacerbating their illness,” Derby said.

For a person beginning the quitting process, Derby says high levels of stress will hurt their progress. As a physician often advising patients in smoking cessation, she says there are four steps.

First, she helps them address the craving and put harm-reducing products in its place. Then, they address anxiety related to quitting. Next, they prepare for rebounds.

Derby says it’s normal for patients to fall off the wagon before they quit for good. Finally, they work with groups on quitting and avoiding the addictive substance.

Derby says addiction and mental health are linked. Stress, anxiety and depression are often combined with substance abuse.

“Not only are we seeing an increase in tobacco use, we’re also seeing an increase in mental health problems. So we’re seeing people for depression, anxiety, and all kinds of others things that we have to walk people through,” Derby said.

The pandemic brought out levels of stress that Derby says most people hadn’t seen, and often addiction plays a part in that stress.

“We’re using it to self-treat. It’s kind of like alcohol. It makes it a little bit worse. They go to their cigarettes, and then the cigarettes cause inflammation which then increases their anxiety, which then makes them want to smoke some more,” Derby said.

Some suggest part of the boost in sales might have been from people stocking up on cigarettes in fear of supply chain shortages. The FTC says manufacturers sold 203.7 billion cigarettes in 2020, up from 202.9 billion in 2019, which is an increase of 0.4%.

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