Impact of Covid -19 on caller characteristics and quit rates: An experience from regional tobacco Quitline from India

Nicotine Tob Res. 2022 Jan 12;ntac013. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntac013. Online ahead of print.


Background: The tobacco epidemic is a major health concern amplified by Covid-19. We aimed to study differences in caller profiles to the regional tobacco quitline services of South India during the Covid-19 pandemic in comparison with the pre-pandemic.

Method: Using a descriptive cross-sectional research design, we examined registered caller profiles to the quitline between March and July 2019 (Pre-Pandemic N=7845) and the same months in 2020 (Covid-19 pandemic phase N=6447) phases.

Results: The proportion of registered callers with an expressed intent to quit tobacco increased by 1.73 times during pandemic (16.7% versus 9.6%). Health concerns were cited as the major reason (93.25%) to quit tobacco in 2020 as compared to 2019 (88.02%). Cough (28.50%) and psychological difficulties (14.20%) were reported significantly more by RCs in 2020. Self-reported quit rates were significantly higher among RCs in 2020 as compared to 2019 on the quit day (2019 - 47.37% & 2020 - 77.54%, P=0.001), at one week (2019 - 25.17% and 2020 - 56.06%, P=0.001) as was one-month continuous abstinence (2019 - 11.88% and 2020 - 39.60% P=0.001).

Conclusion: The pandemic resulted in a greater intent to quit among registered callers to the quitline. However, awareness about the quitline services as well as other tobacco cessation services needs to be expanded to reach more tobacco users.

Implication: Pandemics offer an opportunity to change health risk behaviours. During the Covid-19 pandemic, callers to the tobacco quitline were more motivated to quit tobacco and attributed it to concerns about the health risks from tobacco use, particularly during the pandemic. Quit rates also increased significantly during the pandemic as compared to before. These gains in encouraging tobacco cessation need to be maintained beyond the pandemic by strengthening existing quitlines and other supports for tobacco cessation.

Keywords: Covid-19; Lockdown; Tobacco; Tobacco Cessation; Tobacco Quitline.