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COVID-19 means smoking more for some youths

Mandatory masking because of the COVID-19 pandemic has discouraged some young people from smoking in public, but it has also prompted others to smoke more at home.

That is what The Young Reporter found after talking to a number of young people on the World No Tobacco Day 2021 today. 

Even though the theme of the United Nations initiative this year is “Commit to quit”, it appears not too many university students have made a commitment to do so.

A 22-year-old university student who would only be identified as Mr Wong said he had to reduce smoking since the outbreak of the pandemic because he could not smoke on the streets, worrying that he might be caught by police for not wearing a mask.

Due to the switch to online learning, he said he had few opportunities to go out and had been smoking less as he did not want to subject his family members to the risk of second-hand smoke.

However, for students who live on their own, the pandemic has meant smoking more.

Jia Fengyuan, a 20-year-old student who lives off-campus, said he had been smoking more because he was spending more time at home.

“Usually smoking is banned on the campus, but I can switch off the camera for a while and have a cigarette when I have online classes at home,” said Jia, who added that his roommates did not mind him smoking.

Another 20-year-old student from the mainland, who would only be identified by his surname of Luo, also said he had been smoking since arriving in Hong Kong during the pandemic, as he had more time staying alone indoors due to online learning and didn't need to worry about his family being affected by second-hand smoking.

In his message marking the World No Tobacco Day, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said smokers had up to 50% higher risk of developing severe disease and death from the Covid-19 virus, adding that quitting was the best choice to lower the risk.

The good news is that a study in Hong Kong has found that more young people have been smoking less because of the pandemic.

According to a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong at the end of 2020, which involved 201 users of the YouthQuitline who were under 25, more than 80% had changed their smoking habits during the pandemic.

These changes were mainly due to wearing masks (30%), closure of bars/pubs (25%), suspension of classes (14%), and being unable to socialize with friends (24%). Overall, about 58% reduced their tobacco use; of these participants, 66% reported a more than 50% reduction in daily cigarette consumption. 

The figures were presented in a paper, Impact of COVID-19 on the Hong Kong Youth Quitline Service and Quitting Behaviors of Its Users, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in November.

Even so, COVID-19 has also caused some smokers to smoke more. One of them was Mr Kwan, who declined to give his full name.

The young man who graduated from university two years ago said he had started to use the flue-cured tobacco which contained more nicotine and other harmful materials during the pandemic in order to eliminate stress.

TYR called YouthQuitline to seek some advice on quitting tobacco. 

“The key to quitting smoking lies in the mindset,” said Ms Yip who has been a counselor there for two years. “You have to realize that if you let tobacco control you, you will end up smoking and smoking.”

She suggested young people should do some exercise, have deep breaths, or eat snacks to divert their attention away from smoking.

She also encouraged youths to think twice before smoking. “ Why do you want to smoke? What can you get by smoking? Have you ever thought about the people around you when you're smoking?” she said.

So far the YouthQuitline has received more than 11,000 calls and counseled more than 2,200 young smokers, said Ms Yip. 

WHO is cooperating with Viber, Whatsapp, FB Messenger, WeChat and AI company Soul Machines to reach billions through free digital aids about quitting tobacco, including WHO Quit Challenge Chatbot and AI digital helper Florence.














《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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