Researchers Have Warned that Smokers are More Vulnerable to COVID-19

By      30-Jun 2020       Reading Time: 5 Mins

Researchers Have Warned that Smokers are More Vulnerable to COVID-19

Covid-19 is observed as a disease of the respiratory system in human beings. Since lungs and respiratory tract in tobacco smokers are already weak, the severity of Covid-19 infection in smokers, such as difficulty in breathing, is far higher than the non-smokers, said Dr. A K Dewan, Director Surgical Oncology, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC).

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also mentioned that tobacco use may increase the risk of suffering from serious symptoms due to COVID-19 illness. As compared to non-smokers, having a history of smoking may substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for COVID-19 patients. It increases the chances of being admitted to intensive care, requiring mechanical ventilation and suffering severe health consequences. 

Tobacco in any form is a risk factor

Tobacco use may increase the risk of suffering from serious symptoms due to COVID-19 illness. Smoking is already known to be a major risk factor for many other respiratory infections, including colds, influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. The effects of smoking on the respiratory system makes it more likely that smokers contract these diseases, which could be more severe. Smoking is also linked to increased development of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a key complication for severe cases of COVID-19, among people with severe respiratory infections.

Any kind of tobacco smoking is harmful to bodily systems, including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Research from China where COVID-19 originated, suggests that people who have cardiovascular and respiratory conditions caused by tobacco use, or otherwise, are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms 

What do the numbers say?

According to Dr. L M Darlong, Head of Thoracic Oncosurgery at RGCIRC, tobacco is the single leading cause of cancer in India. About 40% of the cancers in men and 20% of the cancers in women are related to tobacco. These include Lung cancer, Head & Neck Cancer, and Oral cancer which are directly related to tobacco consumption. In the case of lung cancer, smoking is the leading risk factor and accounts for 80% of lung cancer incidence.

Smoking is also a key reason for other co-morbidities in a person such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. It has been noticed that mortality rates of Covid-19 are higher among patients with co-morbidities which are directly related to smoking. So it is all the more crucial to quit smoking during these times of health crisis, stated Dr. Dewan.

Besides being the leading risk factor for oral cancer, chewing tobacco is also responsible in the spread of Covid-19 as the use of chewing tobacco leads to increased production of saliva and thus the urge to spit at public places. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has already warned about the chances of increasing the spread of the COVID-19 virus due to spitting in public places.  Due to which spitting in public places has been banned by the Government, Dr. Dewan added.

As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS): India 2016-17, nearly 267 million, or 29% Indians aged 15 and above used tobacco in different forms. This makes tobacco consumption in India as one of the highest in the world.

Over to you

As per WHO, tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while almost 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Over 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.

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