By: Aaron Derfel
Quebecers have been smoking and drinking a lot less in the past month than during the second peak of the pandemic at the beginning of the year, indicates the latest survey by the province’s public health institute. However, cannabis consumption during this period has remained stable, challenging earlier news reports that suggested pot use was rising.
In a Feb. 9 survey, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) reported that 22 per cent of respondents had smoked in the previous month. The INSPQ hypothesized that the stress, anxiety and isolation of the pandemic could lead to greater use of tobacco, alcohol and cannabis.
Indeed, a U.S. study found that during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, sales of alcohol and tobacco jumped by 34 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.
“These are significant jumps, and show that the stress, boredom and loneliness caused by the pandemic may have led to increased alcohol and tobacco use,” Brian Lee, lead author of the study, said at the time.
The INSPQ started tracking tobacco and alcohol use in Quebec only at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. In a March 9 survey, the INSPQ reported that 23 per cent of respondents had smoked in the previous month. But in the last two surveys by the INSPQ — taken as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations started to drop in Quebec — the proportion of survey respondents saying they had smoked had dropped by half.
On May 9, the smoking rate was 10 per cent and it rose to 11 per cent in the latest survey made public on July 5.
A slightly similar pattern emerges with alcohol consumption. In the Feb. 9 survey, 70 per cent of respondents acknowledged drinking alcohol in the previous week, and of those that did drink, 52 per cent had consumed to excess. But in the July 5 survey, 64 per cent said they drank alcohol in the past week and in that group 45 per cent had consumed too much.
As for cannabis consumption, the rates were 13 per cent on Feb. 9, 13 per cent on March 9, 12 per cent on May 4 and 13 per cent on July 5. These findings would appear to contradict news reports that “Quebecers are smoking more cannabis during the lockdown,” as one headline stated.
This may be because the first part of the INSPQ surveys have focused on cannabis and include statistics on perceptions by respondents on whether their use of the drug had increased since before the pandemic. Thus in the Feb. 9 survey, 42 per cent said that it did. Asked the same question for the July 5 survey, 28 per cent responded that it increased while 55 per cent said it stayed the same.
But consumption of cannabis is different than perceptions, and those rates have remained stable in 2020 compared with tobacco and alcohol use.
Meanwhile, in a separate survey, the INSPQ found Quebecers are the most optimistic they’ve been that the pandemic is nearing the end. In the survey taken from June 11 to June 23, 87 per cent of respondents said they believed the worst of the crisis was behind them. That compares with a low of 10 per cent in January.
Still, the survey observed that support for wearing a mask in public was high despite the drop in COVID-19 cases and the ramp-up in vaccinations. Ninety-one per cent of respondents said they “always” wore a mask in public when physical distancing was not possible.
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