World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) appears this year with the theme “Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use”. The Habit of smoking can damage several organs of the human body especially the respiratory system including the lungs. More than 1.3 billion people use tobacco worldwide for diverse reasons like stimulation, stress relief, enjoyment, social situations, etc. Interestingly, above 80% of the global tobacco users belong to low and middle-income countries. Recently, the world is suffering from another life-threatening disease COVID19. So it is a burning question: are smokers more vulnerable to COVID19? Stay with us to know some facts.
What Smoking Does to Your Lungs?
The habit of smoking can affect your lungs badly. Initially, symptoms may start with Asthma, Wheezing, Coughing, or Colds. Smoking can lead to fatal diseases like pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer, etc. Research shows that smoking is held responsible for 84% of human-deaths from lung cancer worldwide.
Cigarette smoking can also lead to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which also increases the risk of lung cancer. COPD refers to a group of lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, etc. Cigarette smoking causes about 83% of human-deaths from COPD around the world. COPD mainly causes difficulties in breathing through narrowing down the airways and damaging of the lung tissues. COPD may cause several symptoms in people such as ongoing coughing with phlegm or mucus, shortness of breath during physical activity, wheezing or squeaky sound while breathing, chest infections, chest tightness, etc.
The destruction of tobacco use doesn’t end here. The connection between COPD and lung cancer seems like a two-way street. A study conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston shows that COPD patients have a 1.86-times higher risk of developing small cell lung cancer(SCLC) than people without COPD. It accounts for 15% of lung cancer cases globally. What is more? Lung cancer patients are more vulnerable to COPD than people who don’t have cancer.
Unfortunately, the early signs of COPD and SCLC are often neglected by people in the name of ‘smoker’s cough’. However, if smoking is further continued the conditions can get worsened. Quitting Cigarettes is the most effective way to slow down the progression of lung diseases.
According to the recent data of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tobacco can kill around half of its users. Over 8 million people die each year worldwide due to Tobacco consumption. Among those deaths, above 7 million are caused by direct tobacco use. And, around 1.2 million non-smoker people die from being exposed to second-hand smoke (SHS).
On the other hand, the term ‘Coronavirus’ refers to a type of virus. There are several kinds of Coronaviruses, and some of those cause disease. In 2019, the newly identified coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (known as COVID19) has caused a pandemic of respiratory illness around the world. The grievous impact of the COVID19 pandemic has affected more than 6 million people worldwide, while the global death toll has surpassed 3 lacs. To date, there is no scientifically proved vaccine to stop the destruction of the Coronavirus.
You may know that smokers are more like to contract respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold than non-smokers. Smokers also tend to have an increased rate of tuberculosis and bacterial pneumonia. Both COVID19 infection and tobacco use tend to deteriorate the human-respiratory-system. So, it can be related that smokers are more likely to experience severe complications if they get infected by the new coronavirus.
The research initiatives regarding previous corona viruses reveal that smoking can worsen the impact of coronavirus infections. In 2012, the outbreak of MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) caused by another kind of Corona Virus caused more deaths among infected smokers than the infected non-smokers. In addition, people with the habit of smoking carry twice the risk of contracting influenza with further severe symptoms than nonsmokers.
To date, scientists haven’t got enough scope to carry out extensive research to evaluate the risk of COVID19 infection associated with tobacco consumption. But some evidence suggests that smoking is more like to increase the severity of the COVID19 complications if you are infected by the new Coronavirus.
In China, study of 1,099 patients with COVID-19 shows that smokers were about 1.4 times as likely as nonsmokers prone to experience severe symptoms. Moreover, smokers are found 2.4 times more likely to get admitted to an ICU (Intensive Care Unit), require ventilation, and die in comparison with non-smoker patients who were also infected by the coronavirus. During COVID19 treatment in China, a small study of 78 people shows that a statistically higher percentage of smokers were found in the group whose health-conditions were adversely progressed in comparison with the group showing stabilization and improvement.
Do the Smokers Carry Higher Risk of Contracting COVID19 than Non-smokers?
Though there is no scientifically proven evidence yet regarding the link between smoking and COVID-19, the act of smoking can enhance the risk. Let’s see how it happens.
People Consume Tobacco in several forms like smoking cigarettes, smoking water pipes (shisha or hookah), smoking biri, smoking cigars, chewing Cigarettes, vaping (e-cigarette), using heated tobacco products, etc. Generally, the act of smoking involves using fingers with the lips, which facilitate the transmission of the Coronavirus from unwashed contaminated hand to mouth. The possibility of contaminated cigarettes and tobacco products should also be considered.
Especially, when people smoke water pipes, the associated equipment like mouth pieces and hoses, are often shared by more than one person. This act enhances the possibility of transmission of COVID-19 infection to more tobacco users in the community.
Consumption of smokeless tobacco also involves some level of hand to mouth contact. When a person chews a smokeless tobacco product, saliva is naturally produced during the chewing process. If any COVID19 infected person chews tobacco and spits out his excess saliva in a public place, the coronavirus can get spread to the surrounding area and affect many other people in the locality.
What Happens If You Quit Smoking or Tobacco Consumption?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends you to quit smoking or other forms of tobacco use considering the associated health-risks caused by tobacco. The very moment you quit, your lungs and heart will start functioning better. Within 20 minutes of quitting, consequences like increased heart rate (HR) and blood pressure will improve. After 12 hours, the level of carbon monoxide (CO) in your bloodstream will drop to a normal state.
Within a period of 2 to 12 weeks, you will experience healthier blood circulation and lung function. Respiratory problems such as coughing and shortness of breath decrease will decrease after 1 to 9 months depending on the severity. It can also protect your family and children from the harmful impact of second-hand smoke exposure. Finally, quitting tobacco use can reduce your risk of getting affected or experiencing severe symptoms of COVID19 infection.