BOSTON, Mass. — They are a pair of unhealthy behaviors that seem to go hand-in-hand -- but will they get out of hand as the pandemic drags on? Young adults tell Boston 25 News not only are members of their age group consuming more alcohol, but many are also now smoking cigarettes.
“People are definitely drinking more, and I’d say on the weekends people will go out and bring packs of cigs with them and smoke after,” said Erin Santacrose, originally from Chicago and now living in Southie. “I don’t know many people that have taken up smoking as a daily habit at my age, but definitely on the weekends people are doing it a lot more.”
Santacrose says the post-drinking tobacco indulgences seem to date to the beginning of the pandemic -- about when alcohol consumption began increasing.
“I think it’s just more of a kind of trend now,” Santacrose said.
That trend may be showing up in actual statistics. Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission reported that for the first time in 20 years, year-to-year cigarette sales actually rose from 2019 to 2020, the first year of the pandemic.
Alcohol sales went up during the pandemic, as well. And so, apparently, did problem drinking in the United States.
A Massachusetts General Hospital study estimated excessive or binge drinking has gone up 21 percent during the pandemic.
Molly Finn, 23, calls smoking after drinking a social thing -- though she doesn’t partake -- in part, because a family member had lung cancer.
“It’s really common,” Finn said. “You see kids smoking cigarettes after a long night of drinking all the time. Just last weekend my friends were like, ‘Oh my God, we just smoked a cigarette last night!’ I was like, really, are we in the 80s?”
Though many claim to smoke only occasionally, Finn said her friends are addicted to nicotine.
“It’s kind of the most ridiculous thing,” she said. “They all admit it. But no one seems to really care that much.”
However, there is reason to care -- both for the long and short term.
The toxic effects of cigarette smoking on the heart and lungs are well-known. And excessive drinking is linked to cancer and cirrhosis, among other things.
Smokers who get COVID-19 are at higher risk of serious illness from the virus. And two years ago, the World Health Organization also warned against excessive drinking during the pandemic -- as alcohol can negatively impact the immune system.
“I’m not surprised by some of the rates we’re seeing of more use of cigarettes, as well as alcohol,” said Christine Crawford, MD, a psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center. “Yes, it is very stressful what is going on right now in terms of all the uncertainty. So to be able to take a break from all of that and to go outside and to physically remove yourself from an environment that is causing a lot of stress,. I could see why it’s a behavior that’s attracted a lot more attention from young people.”
But Crawford worries this ‘self-medicating’ will only go so far in easing that stress.
“Unfortunately what we’re seeing is that young people are waiting until they get to a point of crisis and that’s when they tend to seek out mental health treatment,” Crawford said. “And unfortunately they’re seeking that out in the emergency room setting which is not an appropriate location to receive such support.”
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