Tobacco and marijuana products damage lungs, where the virus does its harm. Health officials are urging people to quit, and temporary sales bans are even being discussed
Anxious times — like a pandemic — can lead to unhealthy but self-soothing habits. But some stress-reducing behaviours are alarming to medical experts right now — namely vaping and smoking of tobacco or marijuana.
Because the coronavirus attacks the lungs, this is exactly the moment, they say, when people should be tapering — or better yet, stopping — their use of such products, not escalating them.
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“Quitting during this pandemic could not only save your life, but by preventing the need for your treatment in a hospital, you might also save someone else’s life,” said Dr Jonathan Winickoff, Director of Pediatric Research at the Tobacco Research and Treatment Centre at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
On April 9, Winickoff joined the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, to issue an advisory alerting the public and particularly young people that smoking and vaping can also exacerbate the risks of spreading COVID-19.
“You bring this device or cigarette to your mouth to inhale and you do so repeatedly,” explained Winickoff, who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School. “You touch the cartridge. You put it next to your face. You are spreading whatever is in your hand into your body. At the same time, many of my patients who smoke or vape have increased coughing or expectorating. And that’s a recipe for increased spread.”
Studies already amply show that cigarette smoking weakens the immune system and compromises lung function. Research into the health effects of vaping is limited because the devices are relatively new, but studies suggest that e-cigarettes may cause inflammation in the airways and lungs.
Smokers and vapers may be more susceptible to coronavirus infection, the Massachusetts advisory emphasises, and once infected, such patients might also have a tougher time resisting an attack of COVID-19.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Chinese coronavirus patients who smoked were more than twice as likely as those who didn’t to have severe infections from COVID-19.
Winickoff said that prudence about marijuana products was also advisable.
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“Inhaling combusted or vaped cannabis products can damage lung cells, may increase viral replication, and does affect the ability to fight off infection,” he said. “Clean air is what the lungs should be inhaling, especially during a global pandemic.”c.2020 The New York Times Company