During the COVID-19 pandemic, studies have documented increased and decreased cigarette smoking among adults. Individual differences in the perceived susceptibility and seriousness of the virus, for people who smoke in general and for oneself personally, may relate to changes in smoking. Using the Health Belief Model (HBM) as a theoretical framework, we examined associations with self-reported increasing and decreasing smoking a lot during the COVID-19 stay-at-home period. Adults in 30 large U.S. cities who smoked cigarettes daily completed an online survey between 14 July and 30 November 2020. The analytic sample (N = 2768) was 54.0% male and 68.3% white with 23.7% reporting increasing and 11.3% decreasing smoking (6% reported both). Younger age, a diagnosis of COVID-19, and greater pandemic-related stress were associated with greater odds of both increased and decreased smoking. Increased smoking also was associated with heavier nicotine dependence, greater desire to quit, and greater perceived susceptibility and lower perceived seriousness of COVID-19 for people who smoke, while pandemic-related job-loss, lower nicotine dependence, and greater self-efficacy were associated with decreased smoking. Among respondents who had not contracted COVID-19 (n = 2418), correlates were similar with the addition of greater perceived personal susceptibility to COVID-19 associated with both increased and decreased smoking, while greater perceived personal seriousness of COVID-19 was associated with increased smoking. Findings for risk perceptions were largely in directions that contradict the HBM. Circumstances surrounding behavior change during the pandemic are complex and may be especially complex for nicotine addiction.
Keywords: COVID-19; Health Belief Model; cigarettes; smoking; tobacco.