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Fewer people calling hotline to quit smoking

When it comes to smoking, the pandemic cooked up a perfect storm: an increase in cigarette sales, and a decrease in people attempting to quit.

HAZLETON, Pa. — Spring is usually the busiest time of year at Pathway to Recovery in Hazleton when it comes to fielding calls from people who want to quit smoking.

But since the pandemic began, those calls have dropped off significantly.

"Usually, quitting smoking, you want it to be a time when you have the least amount of stress to make it easier, and this past year has just been so stressful for everybody that they might not be thinking it's a good time, that they won't be able to cope with dealing with all the COVID chaos, plus trying to quit smoking," said Eileen Panzarella, Prevention Director for Pathway to Recovery.

It's happening all over the country. 

New data shows a 27% decrease in call volume to the national hotline 1-800-QUIT-NOW. 

Deb Brown, chief mission officer for the American Lung Association, says it's cause for concern. 

"We have seen a 35% decrease in enrollment nationwide among our remotely delivered tobacco cessation programs."

Especially troubling is the fact that smokers are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. 

But cigarette sales have gone up since the start of the pandemic.

"If that was their coping mechanism for stress, if they don't have a good basis for a new coping mechanism, they might have decided to start smoking again," said Panzarella.

Staff at Pathway to Recovery say the good news is, recently, they have seen an uptick in the number of people reaching out for help with quitting.

"Maybe some of it has to do with people having vaccines, or it seems like maybe we're going to get a handle on this that they can start thinking now about themselves," said Panzarella.

"I think it is a good time for people to start thinking about doing one of the most important things that they can do in their life, and that's quit smoking."

Pathway to Recovery is participating in the American Lung Association's Freedom from Smoking campaign, a free program to help people quit. Contact them for more information here.

For a list of tobacco cessation resources in our area, click here.

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