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COVID-19 and Increased Anxiety Spikes Tobacco Usage

September 29, 2021
By Pivot
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It’s likely no surprise that with the COVID-19 pandemic, people all over the world faced more physical health risks and scares more than ever before. It also led to a domino effect of other issues such as financial and mental health challenges. As a result, businesses have been at the brunt of it, absorbing the downstream ripple effect of the pandemic, with many employees experiencing higher than normal anxiety and stress levels due to isolation, remote job stresses, fear of the pandemic and much more. 40.9% of respondents of a CDC survey reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic.

For many employees, anxiety and stress has been manifested through an increased reliance on cigarettes, vaping and other tobacco products. As a result, employee physical wellness and mental health suffers, which imposes risks of additional loss funds to your business that you may not even be aware of. With the COVID-19 Delta variant on the rise, it’s important to think about how you can get your employees and your business back on track.

Cigarette sales are up, productivity is down

In the first ten months of 2020 alone, cigarette sales increased roughly 1% according to the US Treasury Department. This follows an annual decline of 4-5% since 2015, with people spending more of their hard-earned money on tobacco products during this stressful time. Additionally, quit lines inquiries were down anywhere between 29-39% in 2020 from 2019, with up to 250,000 less people seeking assistance for quitting tobacco. Despite an increased push from healthcare professionals encouraging patients to quit or reduce their tobacco habits during the pandemic, US survey respondents said they increased their smoking (25%) during this time.

Conditions imposed by the pandemic, such as anxiety and stress, have made tobacco a primary outlet for many. Additionally, due to the rise in remote work, it has increased the opportunity and access to such products, making it even harder to manage cravings and consumption. Nearly a third of respondents from a recent study claim to have increased their smoking during the pandemic, citing boredom, increased free time and stress as culprits. Company smoke-free campuses and policies no longer apply, and a window of opportunity has been created for tobacco to make a re-entry into the workplace unbeknownst to many employers.

COVID-19 and the Impact on Employee Productivity

For companies looking to re-evaluate their physical and mental benefits and wellness programs, it will be no surprise that some portion of your employee base smokes. Surveys have found that people who smoke miss more days of work and have longer stretches of poor productivity while at work than people who don’t. A 15-minute smoke break here and there, compiled with decreased motivation from their stress and anxiety, means the monetary consequence of using tobacco adds up quickly. Employing a person who smokes costs employers an average of $8,900 per year. Smokers also suffer from weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to COVID-19 and its effects (i.e., time off to isolate, recover or even worse – hospitalization), which impacts the very core of your business. This makes it more important than ever for employers to prioritize smoking cessation programs. The items below suggest a way to offer (or refresh!) a smoking cessation and the best way to approaching your employees if choosing to do so during this time:

3 ways to uplift your employees to quit tobacco during COVID-19

Show Empathy

Foster a positive environment for employees that do smoke, moving from historical messaging that shames smoking and into an atmosphere that fosters encouragement and support. Commend their bravery for even trying and taking the step in wanting to improve their health and well-being.

Offer an Engaging Smoking Cessation Program

Ensure your company offers a comprehensive tobacco cessation program that’s both effective and engaging. Every tobacco user has different needs and challenges when trying to quit, so it’s especially essential to offer a program with multiple modalities and flexible goals and strategies.

Programs like Pivot offer a holistic approach to quitting – your employees can quit when they’re confident and ready, and are supported by their live, accessible coaches, peer-to-peer community, motivational app and breath sensor and nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) throughout their entire quit journey. Pivot makes it easy for your company’s benefit and wellness teams to promote your smoking cessation offering – it includes tailored messaging, campaigns, collateral and more built just for your business that even takes into consideration your diverse employee base. Even in a study where 2/3 of participants said they were not ready to quit, Pivot delivered a 32% quit rate. As a result of implementing a program with Pivot, your business gets a chance to earn missed productivity back.

Rally Your Company Around Health Observance Days

By simply recognizing and spotlighting these types of events shows your employees that their health is a priority and you’ll be surprised as to how much of a difference that can make for tobacco users unsure about pursuing cessation. For example, you could recognize:


Covid-19 has worsened the tobacco epidemic, and represents an unprecedented set of risks, stressors, and dangers for all tobacco users. It also represents a chance for you to help your employees in the ways that matter most, and to protect and improve your business as you do.

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