As COVID-19 continues to progress, questions are arising about the relationship between smoking and the virus, particularly if continuing to smoke makes you more likely to get COVID-19. QuitNow is always here to help, especially in times of uncertainty, and we want to provide you with fact-based answers to the questions you might have.
- There is strong evidence that smoking increases the risk of both bacterial and viral infections, such as the common cold or flu.
- Smoking weakens the body’s immune cells over time and makes it harder to fight infections. Tobacco smoke also impacts lung function, such as by causing mucus buildup in your lungs, which also increases the risk of infection.
- We do not know how these factors relate specifically to COVID-19, but the key takeaway is that there could be a link, and attempting to quit could help lower your risk and reduce your chances of complications from the virus.
- QuitNow is here to support you, whether you are ready to quit or would just like more information.
Please note: If you have specific questions about COVID-19 or are experiencing any symptoms, please visit the Health Link BC or the BC Centres for Disease Control websites or call 1-888-COVID19 for more information on the virus.
If I smoke, am I more likely to get COVID-19?
At this time, we are not sure if people who smoke are more likely to be infected by COVID-19. We do know that people who smoke are generally at a higher risk of getting chest and lung infections, due to the damage that smoking causes to the lungs and the immune system. Smoking also involves repetitive hand-to-mouth movements, which provide a route of entry for viruses such as COVID-19 into the respiratory tract. Thus, it does appear likely that smoking would increase your risk of COVID-19.
There is also growing evidence that people who smoke are likely to experience complications or more severe cases of COVID-19 if they do become infected. Tobacco smoke harms your lungs, including their ability to self-clean, and damages your immune system. This makes it harder to fight off infection and increases the risk of an infection becoming more serious. A review of cases of COVID-19 in China found that smokers were 1.4 times more likely to experience severe symptoms of COVID-19.
The bottom line: Smoking may or may not increase your chances of getting COVID-19 but, in the absence of more information, tobacco smoking appears to be the most important avoidable risk factor for a more severe case of COVID-19.
Will quitting smoking reduce my chances of getting COVID-19?
We do not know yet if quitting smoking can specifically reduce your risk of getting COVID-19. Quitting smoking can help improve your lung function over time, as well as reduce your risk of lung infections like pneumonia. As little as 72 hours after you quit smoking, breathing becomes easier as your bronchial tubes are able to start self-cleaning again, which helps clear your airway.
That being said, information about COVID-19 is continuously evolving, and we are still learning about how the virus works and what might increase someone's risk of developing complications. Quitting smoking may or may not reduce your chances of getting COVID-19, but it can likely help prevent the infection from getting worse if you do get the virus. Quitting smoking may also be good for public health, because it could help reduce community transmission of the virus, helping us as a community to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is always a good time to quit, and right now anything you can do to help make your lungs and your immune system stronger is a good idea.
What about e-cigarettes, are they a safer alternative?
We are still learning about the effects that e-cigarettes have on your health. We know that vaping can irritate the throat and cause damage to the cells that line your airway, making them more susceptible to infection. It can also cause damage to your lungs over time, reducing their ability to fight off infections as well as increasing your risk of chronic lung diseases like asthma. The link between vaping and risks of infections like the flu has not yet been researched, but is likely similar to the risks posed by smoking.
From what we do know about vaping and its effects, when it comes to COVID-19, vaping would do more harm than good. If you are looking to quit smoking, it would be better to try another quit method rather than switching to vaping.
If you currently vape, quitting could help protect your health. It is always a good time to quit.
How can I keep myself safe?
The best course of action is to give your lungs and your immune system all the protection you can, which means trying to quit or reduce your use of tobacco and e-cigarettes.
QuitNow’s Quit Coaches are here to support you either by phone or on our website through live chat, and you can always access our Community Forum for support from others who have quit or are looking to quit tobacco or e-cigarettes now. Click here to access QuitNow's resources and supports for quitting tobacco and e-cigarettes. If you are self-isolating or in quarantine, you can now request access to nicotine replacement therapies by phoning your local pharmacy, or phone your doctor to talk about quit-smoking medications.
If you are still smoking or vaping, though, use extra caution to try to protect your health and the health of those around you.
- Try to maintain social distancing measures even in designated smoking areas
- Avoid sharing your vape or hookah with your friends
- Be conscious of the people around you when using these products, because second-hand smoke and vapour may also pose risks to people’s health
We know that quitting smoking is not always an easy process. It can be even more challenging in times of stress and uncertainty. However, we encourage you to keep trying and not to quit quitting.
Now might actually be a good opportunity to try quitting, as your routine has likely changed because of physical distancing measures. Nicotine addiction is both physical and behavioural. Physically, feel-good chemicals are released when you have nicotine but go away over time, leaving you wanting more. Behaviourally, your brain gets used to having nicotine at certain times of day and in certain situations, and you become dependent on actions associated with smoking or vaping. For example, you may be used to smoking on your lunch break or when out with friends. In your everyday life, it can be hard to avoid these situations that “trigger” a craving to smoke or vape. However, physical distancing has disrupted our daily routines, which could make these triggers easier to avoid and provide an opportunity for you to make a change away from tobacco or vaping.
Our Quit Coaches and online community are great supports and can help you come up with tools to manage stress and conquer your triggers, and to keep you motivated to make this change. Remember, you are not alone. We are here to help.