Smoking can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission within the community as it weakens lung function and immune response to infections, according to experts.
Smokers are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than non-smokers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A review of studies by public health experts convened by the WHO found that smokers are at a higher risk of contracting fatal diseases. Cigarettes seem like an unlikely ally against a respiratory virus. Tobacco smoke damages the tiny air sacs in the lungs where oxygen enters the blood, and slows down the hairs lining the body’s air passages that gently waft along mucus.
Smokers are affected more severely by colds and flu, and years of smoking can lead to a type of lung failure known as emphysema, which is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs,” the WHO said in a written statement.
“Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases,” it added.
WHO also warned researchers, scientists and the media about amplifying claims that tobacco or nicotine could reduce the risk of COVID-19. The statement came after several studies showing that the number of non-smokers was higher among COVID-19 patients compared to smokers, reported by AA.
A survey of 2.4 million Britons found current smokers were 14 percent more likely to develop COVID-19 symptoms than non-smokers. The survey, by the Imperial College in London, also found that when smokers do catch the virus, they were more than twice as likely as non-smokers to need hospitalization.
The London survey results conform to previous studies showing smokers are more prone to catching respiratory viruses in general, since they touch their mouths more and are more likely to have damaged airways.
Last month, a study showing lower than expected numbers of smokers among hospitalized COVID-19 patients led France to ban the online sale of nicotine gum and patches, for fear of a run on the products, reported by the New York Post.
Smokers have a higher risk of getting coronavirus also because they are constantly putting their hands to their lips, said Luong Ngoc Khue, head of the Health Ministry’s Department for Medical Examination and Treatment. The use of smoking devices such as water pipes is also among the causes behind the increase of COVID-19 community infections, he said.