So, You Needed Another Reason to Quit Smoking?
by Harry Rossiter
A recent article in the New York Times reported that as well as relapsing in our diet and exercise habits, the pandemic has seen a change in our smoking habits – and not for the better. Over the past 16 years, smoking rates in the US have declined from 21% of Americans who smoke to 14%. During the pandemic, this decline has stalled. Lots of people who had cut down or quit seem to be smoking again, or more, during the pandemic, if preliminary sales figures for tobacco products are any measure.
So, in case you need any extra incentive to quit smoking, two new research studies, released independently, both show that current and former smoking strongly increase the risk of hospital admission and death in those diagnosed with COVID-19.
The first study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and Florida investigated approximately 7,000 people, of whom about 200 were current smokers and about 900 were former smokers. The study found that heavy smokers (defined here as those who smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more), were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized or die after a COVID-19 diagnosis, than those who had never smoked. The researchers also found that there was a “dose-response” of smoking, meaning that even a little smoking history increases the risk of a severe reaction to catching COVID-19.
A second study conducted by researchers at the National Heart and Lung Institute in London, England, analyzed data from 2.4 million people in the UK who used a COVID-19 symptom tracking app for one month in March-April 2020. Participants provided information about themselves, including height, weight, and medical history, and were asked to log their health condition daily. Using the app, study participants tracked classic COVID symptoms such as fever, new persistent cough, breathlessness, and fatigue, as well as their current smoking status. The study team found that current smokers were approximately 50% more likely to report more severe COVID-19 symptoms than non-smokers.
These studies were not able to tell whether smokers are more likely to catch COVID-19 in the first place, but they both showed a clear pattern: smokers who do catch COVID-19 are more likely to have worse symptoms, become hospitalized, or die from the disease. The studies also did not investigate whether vaping also increases COVID-19 risks. However, because vaping is also associated with acute lung injury, it is probably better to be safe than sorry.
So, as if you needed another reason to quit smoking, now you can add COVID-19 to the list. Quitting smoking is tough, but it the very best gift you can give yourself. Don’t wait! Seek professional help! Take a look at our pages on quitting smoking for some ideas about how to get started. There are many resources to help, such as the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control, American Cancer Society, your hospital, 1-800-quitnow and www.smokefree.gov.
The key to success is to keep trying and reach out for help. You can and will eventually manage it. It is best to start right now. You deserve it!