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Last Updated : Mar 25, 2020 09:44 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Coronavirus pandemic | Are smokers more vulnerable to COVID-19? Here's what experts have to say

The global health body has also warned that the sharing of equipment involving mouthpieces or hoses (say, vapes or cigarettes) in social settings could facilitate the transmission of COVID-19.

A woman smokes a cigarette while wearing a mask, as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world, in central London, Britain (Image: Reuters)
A woman smokes a cigarette while wearing a mask, as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world, in central London, Britain (Image: Reuters)

This might be the best time for smokers to try and quit or cut down smoking. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) would agree that people with smoking habits are more prone to coronavirus infection. And the reason is simple-- smoking cigarettes or vaping affects one's lungs, thereby increasing the chances of a smoker developing serious condition on contracting the infection.

The WHO, in its FAQ on the novel coronavirus pandemic (or COVID-19)  said: "Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase the risk of serious illness."

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The global health body has also warned that the sharing of equipment involving mouthpieces or hoses (say, vapes or cigarettes) in social settings could facilitate the transmission of  COVID-19.

The world is battling the coronavirus outbreak, which manifests in the forms of respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to severe diseases like the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

So, in cases where people are infected with the coronavirus, the chances of those with a history of smoking or an existing habit may lead to the development of a severe infection.

"Inflammatory markers are higher in case of smokers, and hence the chances of such infections (coronavirus) becoming more complicated," said Dr Adarsh Pratap Singh, Senior Resident and President, Resident Doctors' Association, All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). He added that the alveolar cells (through which the exchange of oxygen takes places), in the lungs of smokers are already damaged to quite an extent, depending on the degree and frequency of their smoking habit.

According to Quit, a cancer program run by the Cancer Council Victoria in association with the Australian Department of Health, "People who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections, like lung and chest infections, but there is currently not enough evidence to be certain that people who smoke are at higher risk of being infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19). However, people with poor lung function (as a result of smoking or anything else) may be at higher risk of complications if they do become infected with the virus."

Meanwhile, Dr Stanton A Glantz, Professor of Medicine at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, says that if a person's lungs are exposed to flu or any other infections, a smoking or vaping habit may result in adverse effects in such a case, as opposed to the case of someone who does not smoke or vape.

Dr Glantz, as quoted in an article in the Scientific American, also said that it would be a sensible thing for people to stop smoking in the current circumstances while also avoiding secondhand exposure. He told the journal, "We don’t have every little detail on this nailed down."

"But based on what we know, generally, about smoking and e-cigarettes—and in particular about smoking and COVID-19 from people who are already sick, from one study in China—it stands to reason that you would lower your risk if you stopped doing these things,” he added.

While there are hypotheses and associations being drawn between the infection and smoking, it is important that there is no evidence yet that points to causation. This means that while smoking may act as a risk factor or increase the chances of a COVID-19 patient developing a severe infection, there is no established cause and effect relationship between the two.

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First Published on Mar 25, 2020 09:44 pm
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