Professor Robert West, Professor of Psychology at University College London and author of The Stop Smoking Formula, answers smokers’ questions about Covid-19, the risks they face and the benefits of quitting.
Are smokers at greater risk of developing lung illness from Covid-19 if they catch the virus? If so why?
It is looking increasingly like smokers are at greater risk of severe illness if they smoke. If so, there are many possible reasons including impaired immune response, and pre-existing lung and cardiovascular disease.
Are smokers at great risk of contracting Covid-19 due to the hand to mouth action of smoking?
We do not yet understand the extent of spread in the population. If they are, then touching the cigarette with a contaminated hand and then putting it in the mouth could be one route.
Can smokers improve their chances of fighting the virus if they quit smoking now?
We do not yet know. But given that the virus could well become endemic, it makes sense to try to become a non-smoker as soon as possible so that the likelihood and severity of pre-existing conditions is minimised for the future.
Does this apply even to long term smokers?
Even more so to long-term smokers because these are people who will be most likely to have or develop pre-existing conditions.
How soon will the health benefits of quitting smoking kick in?
In relation to the virus, it is impossible to say, but we can expect to see an improvement in immune response within weeks.
What advice would you give to smokers who decide to quit smoking in lockdown?
Take full advantage of behavioural support that is offered on-line or by phone to give yourself the best chance of success.
If you are a smoker who would like to quit call the NHS Wales Help Me Quit helpline on 0800 085 2219. Alternatively visit https://www.helpmequit.wales.
Community pharmacies also provide smoking cessation support, however they are experiencing higher than usual demand at present so it is best to ring before visiting to find out if help is available. To find your local community pharmacy visit www.cpwales.org.uk
Alternatively, you can buy nicotine replacement therapy products from your local supermarket or online.
ASH Wales runs an online support group on Facebook, Quit Smoking (Wales). To join visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/733935793649137/.