Smoking: Now Is the Time To Quit

NASW Practice Alert

Smoking: Still a Top Health Concern

Though smoking prevalence has declined among adults in United States to 14 percent, smoking continues to be a significant cause of death and chronic illness. Over 480,000 deaths annually are attributable to smoking, according to CDC data. Smoking also causes chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in millions of Americans.

Rates of cigarette smoking continue to be higher among populations with whom social workers engage including people with behavioral health conditions, individuals experiencing homelessness, those with low socioeconomic status, and LGBTQ people. Individuals with a history of trauma, including Adverse Childhood Experiences, have higher rates of tobacco use.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our lives and presented new challenges and stressors. In 2020, the sale of tobacco products increased by 0.8 billion units, the first time in 20 years that cigarette sales have risen.

At the same time, calls to smoking “quitlines” decreased by 27% in 2020 as compared to 2019 according to data from the North American Quitline Consortium (NAQC). Importantly, smokers who develop COVID-19 are at significantly greater risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death. In a meta-analysis of studies published from January to May 2020, researchers found that smoking was associated with progression of COVID-19 illness, particularly among adults under 45, and increased risk of death.

National Partnership

NASW is proud to be a partner of I COVID Quit in 2021, a campaign created by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Smoking Cessation Leadership Center. NASW is also a member of the National Partnership on Behavioral Health and Tobacco Use, a coalition of about 30 organizations committed to eliminating smoking among people with mental health and substance use disorders. The National Partnership values the role that social workers play in educating clients about the harms of tobacco use and in delivering tobacco cessation interventions.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that as of 2019, the smoking prevalence rate for individuals with behavioral health conditions was 28.9%, double the rate of adults without a behavioral health condition. The National Partnership set a goal of reducing smoking rates among the behavioral health population to 20% by 2022. In contrast to common myths that smoking is calming for individuals with mental health conditions, quitting smoking supports mental health recovery and helps to reduce anxiety and stress.

Social Workers

Social workers are vital professionals in the success of the I Covid Quit campaign and can improve the health of the people they serve by prioritizing smoking cessation in their practice. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, primary care, community-based organizations, private practice, and schools. Social workers have the skills to provide prevention, screening, assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and case management to help tobacco users end their dependence. They also provide education about the risks of continuous use of tobacco, its consequences, and the benefits of quitting. They support individuals to develop strategies to minimize withdrawal symptoms.

Social workers work in integrated behavioral health care systems and play an important role on interdisciplinary teams, helping the team to understand the different systems in a person’s environment and how they may perpetuate the continuous use of tobacco. Social workers bring expertise in understanding social factors that influence the use of tobacco such as economic stressors, family, friends, advertising and marketing, and community resources.

Smoking’s harmful toll on health is preventable. With the assistance of the I COVID Quit campaign, social workers are moving forward to help all who seek to quit.


Prepared by Carrie Dorn, MPA, LMSW Senior Practice Associate