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The stress of COVID-19 has fuelled Britain’s smoking habit as latest research from Mintel reveals over half (51%) of smokers are stress-smoking more since the beginning of the pandemic. 

While the pandemic is shining a spotlight on the nation’s health concerns, young smokers in particular are turning to vices as 39% of smokers aged 18-34 say they are now smoking more regularly. Meanwhile, a further 10% of all smokers have started smoking again after quitting. Overall, 30% of smokers are smoking more regularly since the start of the pandemic.

But it’s not just smoking which has seen increases; more than four in 10 (42%) e-cigarette users are vaping more regularly too.  

While smoking is increasing, two thirds (65%) of Britain’s smokers acknowledge they are worried that the virus is more dangerous to them as a smoker. A further seven in 10 (69%) say that their respiratory health is more important to them now than before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Roshida Khanom, Category Director, Mintel Beauty & Personal Care, said: 

The pandemic has elevated stress levels, and amongst smokers this has seen an increase in smoking frequency. And there is a lot to be worried about, especially amongst young smokers who have health concerns and financial woes weighing on their minds. There has been a peak amongst young smokers where increased unemployment and job uncertainty is likely to have driven rates. These added stressors may be the reason for the disconnect between smokers’ health concerns and their habits: despite seven in 10 (69%) considering their respiratory health more important to them, smoking rates are up. Smoking is seen as a small vice especially during these times when there is little else to distract people. While the easing of lockdown restrictions will tackle loneliness and boredom, two factors that have boosted smoking rates, it will take more to reverse the habits developed during the prolonged periods of lockdown.”

Smoking cessation sales fall

E-cigarettes continue to see value growth, increasing by an estimated 7% in 2020 to reach £214 million. Almost nine in 10 (87%) smokers/ex-smokers who vape and are currently trying to quit/cut down on smoking use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation method.

While the e-cigarettes market goes from strength to strength, the smoking cessation category* returned to a decline in value in 2020, falling by 3% to reach an estimated £144.1 million, and is estimated to continue to decline as it faces competition from smoking alternatives such as smoke-less devices, vaping and tobacco-free nicotine pouches (snus). Although four in 10 (39%) smokers intend to quit in the future, only 20% of those who are trying to quit/cut down/have quit have used non-prescription NRTs (Nicotine Replacement Therapies). 

Roshida Khanom, Category Director, Mintel Beauty & Personal Care, said: 

“Added stress due to COVID-19, effective advertising by NRT brands, and a lack of breakthrough new smoking cessation product development have impacted smoking rates, making it harder for smokers to quit. While chemists and grocers remained open during the 2020 lockdowns, access to expert help/advice has been limited, with pharmacists facing increasing pressure and, in some cases, reduced capacity. 

Vaping, on the other hand, continues to be an appealing way to quit/cut down, with vaping rates up since the start of COVID-19. Vapers were already accustomed to buying online even before the pandemic, and while specialist stores have borne the brunt of closures during lockdown periods, online buying has flourished. Both categories face competition from smoking alternatives, such as smoke-less devices and tobacco-free pouches; however, vaping is likely to continue to fare well while smoking cessation is expected to continue on its downward decline.”

*Those products intended to assist and support smokers who are attempting to quit smoking. This includes NRTs (Nicotine Replacement Therapies) which deliver a measured dose of nicotine to a smoker that replaces the nicotine usually obtained from cigarettes.