Smoking and COVID-19

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Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke as well as many other serious conditions including cancer, respiratory and reproductive diseases. These conditions can affect people of all ages and tragically one in two smokers will die of a tobacco related illness.

Therefore, all efforts to support a smoke FREE society must be supported and we welcome the ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes from May 20th 2020. The pleasant taste from these cigarettes masks the true taste of tobacco and makes it easier for people to start smoking and to stay smoking.

If you are a smoker, the single most important thing you can do for your health is to give up! If there was ever a time to quit, now is it.

How does smoking increase the risk of COVID 19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever to quit. Smoking can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of developing COVID-19 and suffering complications if you do get infected. The most recent evidence from the World Health Organisation highlights that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to non-smokers.

Lungs

Tobacco smoking affects the function of the heart and lungs making it harder to respond to an acute infection. This happens as the natural barriers in the lungs are weakened and may make it easier for coronavirus to attach itself to the lung surface and infect lung tissue.

People who smoke are more likely to get the flu and are more likely to have a worse infection than people who don’t smoke. And just like the flu, a coronavirus infection may be more severe in people who smoke and will take longer to recover from the illness.

Hand to mouth

The virus can be transferred by hands, objects such as a cigarettes/vapes or surfaces. This why people are advised to reduce the amount of times they touch their face. This risk is increased when you smoke, as you are more likely to touch your face. Bringing your hands to your mouth frequently when smoking, can transfer the virus into your body.

Smokers who share cigarettes or vaping devices are also increasing their exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

How can I reduce my risk?

Stopping smoking or vaping now will lower the risk of severe symptoms and improve your outcomes if you contract the COVID-19 virus.

When you stop smoking the benefits are immediate:

  • the natural hairs in your airways (cilia) begin to work again which helps build your natural resistance to all types of infections
  • within 20 minutes your blood pressure and heart rate lower
  • after 8 hours the oxygen levels in your blood improve
  • after 72 hours your breathing and energy levels increase
  • after 2-3 months your lung capacity can improve by as much as 20-30%. All of these benefits will help reduce your risk and put you in a good position to fight the virus.

Don’t share cigarettes or vapes as you are potentially transmitting and spreading the virus between people.

Avoid smoking around others, as second hand smoke affects the airways and weakens the body’s immune system. Second hand smoke is particularly dangerous to children as their breathing rate is faster than adults so their lungs are exposed to more smoke.

Advice for quitting

Your own willpower and determination are essential components for quitting and getting the right help can double your chances of success. There are various treatment options available to help you quit and these include:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) – can help to reduce cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms. People who use NRT to help them quit smoking are twice as likely to succeed compared to those who don’t. NRT is available at all pharmacies, without prescription.
  • Medication on prescription – examples include: Champix (Varenicline HCL) and Zyban (Bupropion HCL SR). These medications can double or triple your chances of quitting successfully. Your GP will help you decide which medication is right for you. However be sure to speak to your GP well in advance of your quit date as these medications are often taken for a period of time prior to quitting.

If you are thinking about quitting smoking or would like further information about the different support methods available visit the HSE website or call the HSE quit line on 1800 201 203. Both services are still operational throughout COVID-19 pandemic.