Are people vaping more or less during the COVID-19 emergency?

The evidence on how many people and are vaping, and how much, during the current coronavirus pandemic is not easy to come by, not necessarily highly reliable, and mixed.

Of course, in many countries vape stores have been forced to close during lockdown measures, which will have cut out many users’ normal source of vaping products – and there is evidence in some countries, not all of it anecdotal, that this may have driven some people back to smoking.

If the coronavirus crisis has caused an increase in general awareness of personal health, you might expect people to smoke less – which for some might mean turning to vaping instead. Or it might mean trying to give that up too.

On the other hand, lockdown has meant many people spending a lot more time at home, which for many will be a place they feel freer to smoke (or vape) than at work, say, or out and about.

And if the vape store’s shut, the corner shop has generally remained open, which is likely to mean readier access to combustible cigarettes than vapour products – or perhaps an enforced switch to simpler e-cigarettes such as cigalikes or disposables.

Data from consulting services firm Management Science Associates (MSA), reported in the trade journal CStore Decisions, suggests tobacco sales have been a bright spot for US convenience stores during the pandemic. Don Burke, senior vice president of MSA, told the paper: “As the stay-at-home situation has continued, there has been increased consumption of all types of tobacco items with the exception of vape, possibly because consumers are at home and not in locations where there are restrictions on its use.”

That exception is not borne out, however, by a survey of vapers carried out in the US by polling company CivicScience between 28th April and 10th May, which found 28% had been vaping more during the pandemic, 21% had been vaping less, and 50% had not changed their consumption.

And now comes evidence from Italy, where an online survey by the Higher Institute of Health (Istituto Superiore di Sanità, or ISS) found that the percentage of e-cigarette users went up from 8.1% of the population before the lockdown to 9.1% during the restrictions, an increase of around 436,000 people. Meanwhile, the percentage of smokers fell from 23.3% of adult Italians to 21.9%.

In short, then – while recognising that neither the US nor Italy is the world – the answer to the question “Are people vaping more” is: “probably”.

Photo: E-cig Twigg

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