According to scientists and experts, there is a potential higher risk for smokers than for non-smokers during the Coronavirus pandemic. By using tobacco, smokers have a higher risk of infection from the virus and of experiencing serious complications while being sick with COVID-19.
WHO and Robert Koch Institute warn of health risks
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns of a risk for smokers to become infected with corona virus. The possibility of transmission of the virus is high, because fingers potentially contaminated with the virus and thus cigarettes often come into contact with the lips. In addition, smokers often have reduced lung capacity or already suffer from lung diseases. Therefore, they are more susceptible to develop COVID-19 and to a severe course of disease. The German Robert Koch Institute as well lists smokers as a risk group for severe courses of disease.
How are tobacco use and COVID-19 related?
Until now only a few scientific studies allow first conclusions about the specific risks for smokers. In a study published in the Chinese Medical Journal, the authors list various factors that can have an effect on the course of disease. Patients whose developed more severe symptoms often had a smoking history. Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also found that COVID-19 patients who suffered from a severe course of disease had certain pre-existing illnesses or were active or former smokers.
Nevertheless, these data should be treated with caution as many factors play a role in the disease and its course. Scientists do not yet have satisfactory data available for their conclusions due to the novelty of the virus.
However, it is safe to say that people with pre-existing illnesses are much more negatively affected. They are more susceptible to infection, have to be taken to intensive care more often and need to be ventilated with oxygen more often.
Due to their tobacco use smokers are part of this risk group as they often already have underlying medical conditions or pre-existing illnesses. They generally have a higher risk of viral infections because their bronchial systems have reduced or limited defenses. The German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine (DGP) as well as the virologist Dr. Christian Drosten therefore warn against exposing oneself to an additional risk from smoking especially now.
Addiction in crisis – the crisis as opportunity
Experts in tobacco control, including scientists, doctors, health professionals and numerous initiatives and organisations from civil society, are concerned about smokers in view of the current dangerous situation.
However, tobacco sales do not seem to have decreased since the beginning of the crisis. The major tobacco companies Imperial Brands and British American Tobacco have declared that they have not seen any decline in sales. They still appear to be highly profitable. This is not surprising: people’s fear of infection is high and the social restrictions imposed by coercion are extremely stressful. A severe economic crisis is only in its beginnings, but is already threatening the livelihood of many people. Parents rotate between home office and home schooling, their children cannot let off steam. One can understand it well that many people in this crisis are taking psychological relief from smoking. Therefore, it certainly seems extremely difficult for many people to stop smoking especially at this time.
However: When, if not now, is a better time for this?
The medical consequences of smoking are high, even without COVID-19, and the positive effects of giving up smoking are physically felt within a few days. The inevitable break from routine, e.g. by moving the workplace to the home office, can have a positive effect on cessation. If the current conditions lead to more smoking at home, it means that other family members are more likely to be harmed by secondhand smoke, especially children.
It is always worth quitting smoking to protect yourself and others. But in these times it is especially worthwhile!
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