Link between lockdown stress and smoker cravings

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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought mixed news for smokers with boredom listed as a reason for some lighting up.

Action on Smoking and Health reported that around a million people stopped smoking during the first lockdown. 

Of those who were still smoking 27 percent said they were smoking more, while 20 percent said they were smoking less.  

However, the research also showed that because of the additional stress and boredom of the pandemic, there have been many relapses. 

Dr Samantha Brooks explained that when people are stressed and have an overload on the brain’s pre-frontal system, we stop thinking about our goals because there is too much going on in the mind. 

When we smoke it gives a heightened sense of ability to focus on those goals for around 20 minutes. 

This default mode network is also known as the ‘day-dreaming mode’. It is related to craving and increases the sense of focusing on your internal state and the executive control network, which is used on tasks such as studying for an exam, but weakens over time. 

Dr Brooks said: “Temporarily you get cognitive control after a brief drag on your cigarette but over time you are strengthening this craving network. 

“It’s a double-edged sword. You need to smoke more to feel more in control. But over time you are getting more and more addicted to smoking to get that 10-15 mins cognitive control.” 

Dr Brooks explained how mixing alcohol with smoking can heighten the “fuzzy feeling” some people get when drinking. This also hooks people into an addiction process.  

Smoking causes around seven out of every 10 cases of lung cancer and also raises the risk of getting cancer in many parts of the body. There are also many health risks linked to passive smoking. 

Dr Ivan Gee explained how smoking can impact the lives of those who live with smokers. Their risk of getting lung cancer or heart disease increases by 20-3o percent than someone who is not living with a smoker. 

He believes that although less than 15 percent of people are smoking, there is always more that can be done to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking than just adverts and warnings on the back of cigarette packets. 

Dr Gee said: “It is never too late to quit smoking and we should help each other do that”. 

For help and advice to quit smoking visit the NHS website HERE. 

About Danielle Norton, JMU Journalism