SMOKERS could catch Covid-19 more easily because smoking means they touch their faces more often.
That’s the warning from the World Health Organisation and leading scientists who are urging smokers to give up the habit.
The WHO has warned on its website that the hand to mouth action of smoking could put smokers more at risk of contracting the virus.
“Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth.”
They were joined by Dr Tom Wingfield, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Physician at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He said: “Regular touching of the mouth and face during smoking and sharing cigarettes could potentially increase the risk of contracting infections including Covid-19.”
Smokers have already been found to be at increased risk of developing lung illness if they catch Covid-19 as smoking weakens the body’s natural lung defences. A study from China has found that smokers are 14 times more likely to develop severe disease if they catch Covid-19.
They are being urged to quit to improve their chances of fighting the virus, with the health benefits of giving up kicking in within minutes of smoking their last cigarette.
Dr Wingfield said: “There is good evidence that, compared to non-smokers, smokers are at higher risk of severe Covid-19 lung disease and even death than people who do not smoke. The exact reasons behind this are not yet clear but, compared to non-smokers, smokers are more likely to have high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, heart disease, and circulatory problems, all of which are associated with higher chance of severe Covid-19 disease and death.
“In the short-term, it’s possible that quitting smoking could help you avoid Covid-19 and probable that it would improve your immune response against the coronavirus. In the long-term, not only will you save money but you will also gain years of life! Quitting smoking is one of the biggest single things you can do to improve your health.”
Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales, went on to urge the families and friends of smokers to support their quit attempt:
“Since the outbreak began we have urged smokers to quit as a matter of urgency or face the risk of severe complications from Covid-19.
“The family and friends of smokers have a big part in this, whether that’s by telling them why it’s important to quit, motivating them to stay smoke-free, or including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in the weekly shop.
“During lockdown most smokers will not have access to the face to face smoking cessation support they would normally receive from GPs, pharmacies or Help Me Quit staff. That’s why it is more important than ever for loved ones to step in and support the smoker in their life to quit.”
The immediate benefits of quitting smoking are:
– After 48 hours carbon monoxide is eliminated from the body and the lungs start to clear our mucus and other smoking debris
– After 72 hours breathing becomes easier as the bronchial tubes begin to relax
– After 2 to 12 weeks blood circulation improves, making physical activity like walking and running easier.
NHS Wales’ Help Me Quit service has brought in more telephone advisers to provide smoking cessation support via it’s helpline to meet increased demand from smokers during the Covid-19 pandemic. To receive free advice call the helpline on 0800 085 2219 or 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/.