Breakingviews - Today's virus vices store up tomorrow's problems

Lindor chocolate eggs of Swiss chocolatier Lindt & Spruengli are displayed during the annual news conference in Kilchberg, Switzerland March 3, 2020.

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Friedrich Nietzsche famously argued: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” If the German philosopher could peruse social media in the coronavirus era, he might change his view.

Housebound and bored, people appear to be drinking more booze, toking more weed, watching more porn and smoking more butts. These behaviours may alleviate the monotony of short-term lockdown stress but store up costs for the future.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines on maintaining a sound mind in the face of a pandemic counsel against abusing tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. But the agency also argued that individuals should consider strategies that have worked for them in the past. For many this has meant giving in to temptation.

The virtual-sex trade has got a lift: Pornhub, the leading adult entertainment website, saw a near-12% increase in global traffic from Feb. 24 to March 17. British lingerie chain Ann Summers said sex toy sales were up 27% in the last week of March compared to the same period a year ago, with its quietest vibrator fast becoming its best seller.

Self-medicating is all the rage. U.S. states including California, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska where cannabis is legal have reported 50% sales increases from March 16 and March 22, according to Flowhub. Online booze sales in the United States rose 243% in the week ending March 21, according to market research firm Nielsen. Binge buying drove British alcohol sales up 22% in March, according to Kantar.

Comfort eating is in, too. Nestlé boss Mark Schneider says the $310 billion KitKat maker is struggling to keep snacks on the shelves and reckons they’re just as important as essential nutrients in stressful times.

The bad behaviour isn’t lost on investors. Shares of Nestlé and British American Tobacco for instance have outperformed the STOXX Europe 600. Johnnie Walker distiller Diageo, Canada’s Trulieve Cannabis and Swiss chocolatier Lindt & Spruengli have also done better than their respective market indexes.

The risk is that while most people will survive Covid-19, more of them emerge with porn addictions, liver damage and obesity, imposing a longer-term challenge for health systems battered by the virus. The smart money may have already figured this out: Shares of Novo Nordisk, the world’s biggest maker of diabetes treatments, have outperformed them all.


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