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Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and smoking

People who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections (which can affect the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs), but there is currently not enough evidence to be certain that people who smoke are at higher risk of being infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

However, people with poor lung function (as a result of smoking or other health issues) may be at a higher risk of complications if they do become infected with the virus.It is not clear how long a person needs to stop smoking to reduce their risk of these complications.

It is important to remember quitting smoking has many benefits beyond any link with COVID-19, so it’s always a good time to quit.

 

Q. Are people who smoke at increased risk of getting COVID-19?

While there isn’t enough evidence to be certain that people who smoke are more likely to be infected by COVID-19, the act of smoking means that fingers are in contact with your lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth.

The sharing of bongs and shisha should also be avoided as this involves the sharing of mouth pieces and hoses. This sharing could also facilitate the transmission of COVID-19.

People who smoke are also at a higher risk of getting respiratory tract infections in general.

 

Q. Are people who smoke more likely to have severe complications if they do become infected with COVID-19?

There is growing evidence to suggest that people who smoke are likely to be more severely impacted by COVID-19 if they do become infected, because smoking damages the lungs so that they don’t work as well. For example, lungs naturally produce mucus, but people who smoke have more and thicker mucus that is hard to clean out of the lungs. This mucus clogs the lungs and is prone to becoming infected. Smoking also affects the immune system, making it harder to fight infections.

 

Q. What if I previously smoked? Am I still at higher risk of being infected with COVID-19?

It is not currently known if former smokers have a higher risk of becoming infected compared to people who have never smoked. People who smoke are at increased risk of lung infections in general, but the lungs do begin to heal when people stop smoking. It’s not yet known how long is long enough to reduce the risk to the same as someone who has never smoked.

If you previously smoked and now quit, it is likely you’ll have a lower risk of severe complications (if you were infected) than you would have if you were still smoking.

 

Q. How long after quitting smoking will my risk of infection with COVID-19, or complications from COVID-19, be reduced?

This is not currently known for COVID-19 specifically, but it’s well established that stopping smoking improves lung function within a few months. Rates of lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia also decrease.

 

Q. Where can I get support to stop smoking?

You are in the right place. There are plenty of methods to quit listed on Quit HQ, so there’s sure to be one that suits you. Everyone’s different. So if one method isn’t working out — be persistent and try another. Using a combination of methods, like nicotine replacement and Quitline counselling, will improve your chance of quitting successfully.

Reproduced with permission from Quit Victoria

Last updated: 18 March 2020

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