Covid led to more Danish people quitting smoking than would otherwise have been expected.

Danish smokers bought less tobacco and more of them quit smoking than usual during the COVID pandemic, according to new research from the University of Copenhagen. The result comes as a surprise given that mental health and exercise habits waned during the lockdown, according to a researcher behind the study.

The research monitored cigarette purchases from Denmark’s March 2020 lockdown through to the end of the year. The figures show that regular smokers bought 20% fewer cigarettes each week than before the pandemic, and the number of those who quit increased by 10% on the previous year.

Associate Professor Toke Reinholt Fosgaard, of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food and Resource Economics, said: “The big picture is that cigarette consumption fell during the pandemic. It comes as somewhat of a surprise, as one would expect to see people smoking more during a pandemic, a time when people felt worse psychologically and had fewer opportunities to move about. Yet, the opposite occurred.”

The most obvious reason for the decline in tobacco consumption according to the researcher is that smokers are at greater risk of developing severe COVID symptoms, hospitalisation and, in the worst case, of dying from the virus.

Fosgaard added: “For a smoker, the consequences of smoking became more immediate, rather than a consequence in old age, as smokers suffer more severe cases of COVID.”

While tobacco purchases among all smokers declined by 12%, one group among them bought slightly more during the lockdown – occasional smokers. 

“Social smokers, who we define as those who smoke less than one cigarette a day on average, bought more tobacco than usual, which may be due to a shift from smoking on social occasions to more frequent smoking at home,” Fosgaard advised.

“Our study tells us that smoking behaviour can be influenced not just by pricing, but by making the consequences of smoking more immediate than they are typically perceived. The statistics show that COVID moved people.” 

The researchers gained access to anonymized purchase data from 4042 users, which represented the Danish population in relation to age, ethnicity, socio-economic status and educational level.