COVID-19 Poses a Unique Risk to Smokers
“The stress of social distancing, more time at home, and the overall psychological toll of the pandemic means many people are smoking more,” says Richard Calderone, DO, MPH, an internal medicine physician and adjunct clinical faculty at William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Unfortunately, smoking is one of the worst coping mechanisms right now.”
Because smoking impacts lung tissue and the immune system, the novel coronavirus is proving especially harmful to patients with a history of tobacco use. Recent evidence shows that smoking increases the presence of an enzyme that allows the virus to enter cells, which may explain why people who smoke are at risk of developing severe illness.
Nicotine as a therapy
While a small study by researchers at a hospital in Paris showed fewer smokers were infected with the virus than other people, Dr. Calderone remains skeptical.
“Regarding nicotine use as a preventive measure for COVID-19, I would recommend that anyone considering this wait until full trial results are available, reviewed, and interpreted by experts in the field,” Dr. Calderone states. “What we do know is that nicotine is a highly addictive substance and that products including chewing tobacco, cigarettes, and e-cigarettes, carry significant health risks.”
Offices are closed but doctors are available
Aaron George, DO, a family physician in Hagerstown, MD, suggests now is a good time to speak with your doctor about quitting. He has continued to meet with many of his patients virtually during the pandemic. The heightened risk related to the virus underscores the importance of smoking cessation conversations between patients and their doctors, a resource patients may not realize is available to them.
Despite state-wide mandates that prohibit nonessential visits, many doctors’ offices are open for e-visits, which may offer more face time than a traditional appointment.
“The chance of hospitalization from COVID-19 is much higher if you smoke or vape,” says Dr. George. “These are real risks to consider.”
Free resources to help you quit
“Don’t be discouraged if you’ve tried before, you can quit,” says Dr. Calderone. “Most people try many times before they’re successful. Every attempt counts.”
The CDC offers online resources and a free quit line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) for Spanish speakers.