By now, most of us know that older people are at greater risk from coronavirus. And so are people who are obese, diabetic, or have lung or heart disease.
But there’s another risk factor that may be more dangerous than any of these.
Smokers are 14 times more likely to develop pneumonia and get severely sick from COVID-19, according to a study from China
This isn’t surprising when you consider that COVID-19 is primarily a disease of the lungs. Smoking suppresses lung immune function and increases inflammation.
Also, long-time smokers often have chronic lung conditions such as emphysema that lead to more severe cases of COVID-19.
Dr. Melodi Pirzada is chief of pediatric pulmonology at NYU Winthrop Hospital. She says that smoking or vaping makes it far more difficult for your body to fight off coronavirus. In smokers “the whole airways, the defense mechanism of your lungs—everything changes,” she said.
Smoking and vaping damage cilia. These are tiny hairlike structures in the respiratory tract that keep foreign invaders out of the lungs. We know smoking “inhibits the ciliary clearance of the airways,” Dr. Pirzada said.
Robert Tarran, a professor of cell biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said smokers are “immunosuppressed to some degree.”
All of that adds up to smokers being “more likely to get viruses and have a worse outcome,” said Professor Tarran.
The immune effects of vaping have not been studied as much as smoking. But he points out that research suggests vapers are more likely to get respiratory infections.
The bottom line?
It’s more important than ever that smokers and vapers quit. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Going cold turkey usually doesn’t work. But one study found there’s a quit-smoking strategy that improves your chances of quitting for good by 583%.
The Best Way to Stop Smoking
A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that only 19-27% of smokers can successfully quit cold turkey, even if they use nicotine replacement or medications.
A more recent study shows there may be a more effective way to kick the habit. The research was presented at EuroPrevent 2019. It’s an annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology. Scientists looked at the impact that significant others have on people trying to quit smoking.
The researchers found that couples who attempted to quit smoking together were 5.83 times more likely to be successful than people who tried to quit solo.
Professor Magda Lampridou was the study author. She said, “Quitting smoking can be a lonely endeavor.”
When people attempt to quit with a partner, they can “distract each other from the cravings.”
They can also encourage replacement activities, like “eating healthy food or meditating when alone.”
Team Up to Quit Smoking
If you don’t live with someone whom you could partner with to quit smoking, you can do it with a friend or relative outside your home.
During this time of social distancing, you can check in with each other on a regular basis via phone, text, email, or any other form of communication that is not face-to-face.
The important part is that you make a pact with a fellow smoker who wants to quit and that you support each other.
You’ll have a far better chance to end your cigarette addiction—and cut your coronavirus risk—than if you go it alone.
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