Why people continue to smoke: explaining opposite behaviours; destructive smoking and protecting from Covid-19

Written by Be Smoke Free Coach, Karolina  Ayers  

 Why does a person continue to smoke knowing its destructive consequences but at the same time does all what’s possible to protect themselves from Covid-19 (even though the risks of them dying from it are so much smaller than risks of dying from smoking-related illness)? The answer is cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance?

In a nutshell, the cognitive dissonance describes a kind of discomfort felt when we do something or think in the way that contradicts our beliefs.   


First, we compensate. If our behaviour seems to have some negative effects, we do our best to compensate with a different, healthier behaviour. When we lead completely sedentary life, we try to make up for it by having a healthy diet. People who smoke, knowing how bad it is for their help, will try to overprotect themselves and their health from other even sessional risks (such Covid-19).  

Additionally, as humans we become selective in what kind of information we take seriously. Therefore, if we don’t like getting tired and sweaty during runs, we will focus on negative effects of running on our knees and ankles and will completely omit a vast amount of information about the positive effects of running on our physical and psychological health.  

A person, who smokes will dismiss evidence showing how tobacco products impact their health, but at the same time will be extremely concerned about possibility of getting infected by Coronavirus. Even though the death rates are far less than those caused by smoking for decades.  

Another way of dealing with cognitive dissonance is decreasing the importance of our behaviour. How often have we heard people say: ‘oh I only drink at the weekend and I’m totally off drinking during the week’. Though, they will drink far beyond ‘recommended’ max of 14 units in 2 days, which they try to decrease the importance of; justifying it by staying alcohol free for remaining 5 days of the week. Smokers on the other hand will reduce the significance of their smoking, rationalising it by only smoking 10 a day, rolling their own cigarettes, or by protecting themselves from the current threat of Covid-19.  

For help and advice to stop smoking, you can join our free Be Smoke Free service.

 If you would like local support, you can also access support and resources from The Recovery Village Ridgefield:



  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/cognitive-dissonance 
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/science-choice/201610/cognitive-dissonance-and-addiction 
  3. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-cognitive-dissonance-2795012 
  4. https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1 
  5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stretching-theory/202006/why-do-people-act-against-their-own-better-judgement?amp&__twitter_impression=true 
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