Today is the start of Men’s Health Week 2020 – and a stark reminder of the threat currently faced by the male population worldwide.
The theme for this year’s event is Take Action on Covid-19 – a crucially important message given that men are TWICE as likely to die from the virus. Yes TWICE as likely. And nobody knows why.
So far, the only possible explanations for the gender disparity are that men could be more at risk of acquiring the infection due to behavioural or occupational differences or that there are biological or immune differences that put them more at risk. In other words, scientists are baffled.
What we do know however is that there are pre-existing health conditions and lifestyle factors that put people more at risk of Covid-19 – including smoking.
According to health experts, smokers are more at risk of developing life-threatening complications from Covid-19. This is because smoking damages the lungs and the airways causing a range of severe respiratory problems and harming the body’s immune system.
Data from the COVID Symptom Study app involving more than 3 million people from the UK, Sweden and US, found that current smokers were 14% more likely to develop the three classic symptoms of coronavirus infection – fever, persistent cough and shortness of breath – than non-smokers.
Smokers were also 29% more likely to report more than five symptoms associated with COVID-19 and 50% more likely to report more than 10, including loss of smell, skipping meals, tiredness, diarrhoea, confusion or muscle pain. In addition, smokers were more than twice as likely as non-smokers to end up in hospital with severe symptoms of COVID-19 having tested positive for the disease.
In Wales smoking prevalence is highest among men at 18% compared to 16% among women. Across the UK one man in five dies before the age of 65 and in Wales smoking is the biggest avoidable cause of early death among men.
As well as being more at risk from Covid-19, smokers are far more likely to suffer from other health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, emphysema and chronic bronchitis at a time when the NHS is already under strain from Covid-19 and now facing a huge backlog from cancelled appointments and operations.
For men smoking also leads to a higher risk of prostate cancer. According to Prostate Cancer UK, some studies show that smoking makes prostate cancer more likely to grow and spread to other parts of the body. Smoking may also make prostate cancer more likely to come back after surgery or radiotherapy and if you are a heavy smoker you are more likely to die from the cancer.
This Men’s Health Week we are asking all men who smoke to take action against Covid-19 and quit the habit. There has never been a more important time to give up smoking and doing so could be a decision that saves your life.
NHS Wales Help Me Quit stop smoking service is offering free advice and support to smokers that want to quit via their helpline 0800 0085 2219. Alternatively visit www.helpmequit.wales.
To connect with other smokers who are giving up join ASH Wales’ online support group on Facebook, Quit Smoking (Wales).