Alcohol and Tobacco Usage During the COVID-19 Situation in Sri Lanka
As part of national measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 in the first wave, alcohol outlets were closed for a period of time and cigarette sales were restricted in Sri Lanka leading to reduced availability of the two substances. Evidence suggests reduced availability of alcohol and tobacco would lead to reduced consumption levels. The Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) – Sri Lanka conducted this study on alcohol (legal and illegal) users and tobacco smokers, and their families to ascertain changes related to alcohol and tobacco consumption during the COVID-19 situation in Sri Lanka with the aim of informing ADIC policy advocacy and community interventions.
Data was collected from a sample of 2019 individuals from all 25 districts of Sri Lanka using the snowball sampling method between 1st to 10th of May 2020, through a questionnaire developed by ADIC and administered by trained data collectors. Data analysis was conducted using Microsoft Excel software. The study was conducted as routine work of ADIC and hence ethical approval was not obtained.
Demographics of the sample were as follows: 58% male, 42% female; 23% between 21 to 24 years, 47% between 25 to 40 years, 30% above 40 years. The overall results of the study found that during the COVID-19 situation in Sri Lanka alcohol consumption among 80% of surveyed alcohol users reduced and smoking among 68% of surveyed tobacco smokers reduced. Out of the individuals who quit/reduced alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 situation 37% claimed they were prepared to continue their change in future even after the situation normalizes. Out of individuals who quit/reduced tobacco smoking during the COVID-19 situation 51% claimed that they were prepared to continue their change in future even after the situation normalizes. The opinion of 84% respondents who quit/ reduced alcohol consumption was that restrictions on alcohol availability was helpful in quitting/reducing their alcohol consumption. Only 16% respondents claimed the restrictions did not help them to quit or reduce their alcohol consumption. Among those who quit/reduced tobacco smoking, 48% have reduced tobacco smoking while 20% quit smoking tobacco. According to the responses of wives of men who consume alcohol, 49% reported a reduction in family problems and, 40% reported an increase in family savings, due to husband reducing alcohol use.
The results of this study indicated that restricted availability of alcohol and tobacco led to users reducing/ quitting use of these two substances. A reason for this reduction could be because it may be difficult to quit/ reduce use and experience its benefits under normal circumstances, but the situational influences during COVID-19 provided a chance to experience the benefits of being free from use. Limitations of the study include the following; the sample was not representative and hence findings cannot be generalized to the population; answers by respondents may have been affected by social desirability bias and respondents could have withheld information. Despite the limitations the study provided important insight into alcohol and tobacco consumption during COVID-19 and the efficacy of restricting availability to reduce consumption. Globally, the alcohol and tobacco industries are against sales restrictions and reduced availability of their products because users will quit use by realizing that they can live without these substances and specifically by understanding that it is more comfortable to live free from these substances.