Smokers Likely to Be More Vulnerable to COVID-19: Health Ministry

The ministry has confirmed that smokers are more likely to develop severe symptoms or die from COVID-19.

2 min read
The ministry has confirmed that smokers are more likely to develop severe symptoms or die from COVID-19.

The Health Ministry has released an advisory titled ‘COVID-19 Pandemic and Tobacco Use in India’, confirming that smokers are more likely to develop severe symptoms or die from COVID-19, as it primarily attacks the lungs.

They are also more vulnerable to get infected because the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth. Smoking products such as water pipes or hookah often involve the sharing of mouth-pieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of COVID-19 in communal and social settings.

Evidence: Tobacco and COVID-19

The ministry has refuted a non-peer-reviewed study from France which had suggested the possibility of link between tobacco or nicotine in prevention or treatment of the disease, saying,

“The findings of these studies are inconsistent with the broader existing evidence that tobacco use impacts the lungs and other organs, lowers the immunity and makes people vulnerable to COVID-19. The French studies used limited data sets and the findings are inconclusive. Researchers of these studies do acknowledge the limitation in the study that hospitals were probably not recording patients’ smoking status properly as they were too busy treating patients.”
Health Ministry

In fact, data from countries reporting COVID-related fatalities has shown that people with pre-existing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) may be more susceptible to becoming to being severely ill with COVID-19. Tobacco, by being one of the causes behind these NCDs, can indirectly put tobacco users ar risk of infection.

Bringing to attention the tendency to spit after chewing tobacco products, the document says, “Moreover, tobacco use poses a significant risk by accelerating the transmission of COVID-19 because the virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Chewing tobacco products (Khaini, Gutkha, Paan, Zarda) increases the urge to spit. Spitting in public places increases health risks especially those of spreading the infectious and contagious diseases like, COVID19, tuberculosis, swine flu, encephalitis, etc.”

This is not all. Smoking can also affect the immunity of a person. Chemicals in tobacco smoke suppress the activity of different types of immune cells involved in general and targeted immune responses.

“Smoking impairs lung function, thereby reducing the immunity and making it harder for the body to fight off various diseases. Smoking, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, pan masala and the like products use can increase risk and severity of pulmonary infections because of damage to upper airways and a decrease in pulmonary immune function,” the ministry added.

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