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COVID-19 crisis opportunity for smokers to quit with indications virus could be worse for chronic puffers

Last Updated Apr 2, 2020 at 11:07 am PDT

FILE (iStock Photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic is a good time for smokers to think about quitting, experts say

Experts say anything that impacts your lungs, including cannabis, could increase your risks

The B.C. Lung Association has heard from a number of people who are concerned with smoking and COVID-19

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s never too late to quit smoking, and that includes in this time of crisis. Butting out is becoming a bigger priority for those worried about the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Given how COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system, calls from people who are worried and asking questions about quitting are up, says Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Advisor with the Canadian Cancer Society.

“Smoking has a negative effect on the lungs, the respiratory system, and COVID-19 affects the lungs. And smoking can inflame the lungs, it can suppress and harm immune functions,” Cunningham explains. “There’s one study in China that found that among those with COVID-19, smokers were 14 times more likely than non-smokers to develop pneumonia.”

He says there have also been reports in China and Italy that show men were more likely to die from COVID-19 than women, and in those countries, men were more likely to smoke than women.

“We’ve had many authoritative health bodies urge people to quite smoking and vaping in the context of COVID-19, including the FDA and including the, in the U.S., the National Institute on Drug abuse,” Cunningham says, adding there are a number of reasons to quit smoking – even outside of the pandemic.

He’s also urging people to give up vaping, saying there is evidence, albeit it less clear on this topic, to suggest similar harms of using vaping products.

Experts say anything that impacts your lungs, including cannabis, could increase your risks, and sharing vape pens, cigarettes, or joints puts you at risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Apart from the health benefits of quitting smoking, Cunningham says kicking the habit can also save smokers some money, especially at a time of financial uncertainty for many Canadians due to the coronavirus pandemic. He notes you will see improvements in your well being within hours, days, and weeks of butting out.

Jennifer Callaghan with the B.C. Lung Association says it’s understandable that quitting might be easier said than done, especially during such a high-stress time. Even if you do still smoke, or have been for a long time, there’s never a bad time to think about stopping.

“The good news is it’s never too late,” she says. “I would actually say that now is an excellent time.”

She adds with more people practising social distancing, routines are changing. You may not be going out for smoke breaks with colleagues anymore, for example.

Callaghan, who is in charge of health promotion and tobacco intervention, says the B.C. Lung Association has heard from a number of people who are concerned with whether smoking makes them more susceptible to COVID-19.

“We don’t have specific data, yet, in regards to how smoking could impact getting sick with COVID-19, but what we do know, generally, from lots of research, is that smoking makes people more susceptible to getting ill with colds and viruses,” she says. “Smoking is very hard on the body, and it damages, actually, all the organs of the body, including the lungs and the cardiovascular system. Those are two areas that we know make us very susceptible to acquiring this illness. So by that very nature, the link is likely there.”

She says both smoking cigarettes and vaping are scenarios that could facilitate transmission of the virus, since there is often close hand-to-mouth contact involved. She agrees that sharing any of these products with others can also increase the risk of spread.

If you’re looking for more information on how to quit, click here.