Smoking may be harder to quit now than before coronavirus

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Kicking the smoking habit is a good idea anytime, and with the coronavirus crisis, it might be an even better idea. 

However, that’s easier said than done during a global pandemic.

Nicotine works in the part of the brain related to the survival instinct, working as an imposter safety signal. So in times of intense threat and stress, it’s common for people to reach for nicotine for comfort, according to Dr. Frank Leone, director of Penn’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program.

Still, he believes kicking the habit is always a good idea, no matter how difficult.

“It’s pretty clear that the kind of inflammation that e-cigarette aerosol produces in the lung is pretty much the same inflammation that cigarette smoking produces in the lung, and so as a consequence, I would say this is a bad time to expose yourself to either cigarette smoke or e-cigarette aerosol,” he said.

Although face-to-face meetings and support groups are not available right now, Leone said his office is helping people quit with frequent phone calls, FaceTime and Skype visits.

The same goes for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. 

Pat Brown, a licensed social worker for Main Line Health’s Mirmont Treatment Center said virtual meetings are a great way to stay connected — and stay clean and sober.

“They are a wonderful help because it is important for those in recovery, whether long-term recovery or early recovery, to have a connection, to share common experiences with others who are struggling,” he said. “The void is really the meeting before, and after the meeting, where people get to go to the diners and hang out and make those longer connections, versus just one hour.”

But Brown is worried about people who are new to recovery during this time.

“If you’re in better shape going into an injury, you’re going to do better, so if you’re struggling as this pandemic landed on our doorstep, it’s OK to say, ‘Wow, i’m really struggling with this,’ and note that if life had been a struggle for some months or some period of time, it’s not going to be a snap of a finger to transition coming out of this,” he continued.

Mirmont Treatment Center is hosting three virtual meetings a week, attracting up to 50 people each session. More will be added as the need grows. 

Counselors are also frequently reaching out to those in need and expanding telehealth services.