Experts in the UK are urging cigarette smokers to quit amid the coronavirus outbreak after research showed that the habit makes the virus ‘worse’.
“It is abundantly clear from the research into previous coronaviruses that smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse,” said Matt Hancock, secretary of state for UK health and social care.
Smoking makes COVID-19 ‘worse’
While smokers don’t generally fall into the same COVID-19 at-risk group as the elderly and immunosuppressed, the UK’s chief medical adviser says now is the time to give the habit up for good.
“If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it,” Professor Chris Whitty said.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of UK organisation Ash (Action on Smoking and Health), echoed the message, saying quitting is one of the ‘best things’ smokers can do right now to protect themselves and others.
Smokers at risk
While smokers are no more likely to catch coronavirus, they could be at greater risk of complications, some of which are life-threatening.
Smoking damages the lungs and reduces their function which could be problematic as coronavirus is essentially an infection of the airways.
Smoking also suppresses the immune system making it less able to fight off viruses such as coronavirus.
“Stopping smoking also helps improve heart and lung conditions, wound healing and many other health conditions, which will carry on at the same time as [the coronavirus],” said GP Dr Charlie Kenward from Bristol.
“Stopping smoking remains the single most effective thing people can do to improve their and their family’s health both now and in the future.”
Sharing cigarettes between smokers can also increase the likelihood of spreading the virus which can survive for a time on surfaces.
“The cigarette or roll up acts as a vessel for viruses, and the hand and mouth exposure means saliva and droplets can be easily and repeatedly taken from one smoker to the next,” Dr Sharon Cox from London South Bank University wrote in the BMJ Opinion.
The physical act of smoking - which involves touching the face and particularly the mouth with potentially contaminated hands - could see smokers “infect themselves”.
Discarding cigarette butts on the street also raises the risk of exposure to the virus, particularly among the homeless, added Dr Cox.
Dr Kenward is urging people to #QuitforCovid after an interaction with a female patient who is a smoker and worried about catching the virus.
“I asked her, why not quit?” he said.
“She looked at her nine-year-old son who looked back at her and nodded. This is something all smokers can do now so that’s why I’m asking smokers to #QuitforCovid.”
For support to help you, a friend or family member quit smoking, call the National Quitline on 13 78 48 (13 QUIT) or visit www.quitbecauseyoucan.org.au
Additional reporting by Alexandra Thompson.
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