Smoking can damage the lungs and impair the immune system's efficiency; it makes you more vulnerable to respiratory infections and even leads to severe COVID outcomes. Tobacco causes eight million deaths from cardiovascular diseases, lung disorders, cancers, diabetes, and hypertension every year. In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that smoking impairs lung function, making it harder for the body to fight coronaviruses and other respiratory diseases.
Smoking is associated with comorbid conditions such as respiratory ailments, hypertension, CAD, stroke, cancers, etc., which are often exacerbated due to COVID-19 and remain out of control post- Covid for several weeks and months. In addition, emerging data suggest that e-cigarette use may be linked to a fivefold increased likelihood for a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Though it’s still not very clear whether smokers are more likely to catch coronavirus or not, however, sufficient research has indicated that smokers frequently become severely ill or hospitalised because of COVID-19 infection. Smokers tend to touch their face and mouth more often which increases their susceptibility,” says Dr Raza Siddiqui, Executive Director, RAK Hospital and Founding Member of ARISE, UAE, the Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, a network of private sector entities led by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
Several studies have indicated that quitting smoking provides immense benefits. For instance, within 15-20 minutes, the heart rate drops, leading to reduced blood pressure; after 8-10 hours, carbon monoxide in the body starts decreasing, thus increasing oxygen absorption, after 48 hours, the sense of smell and taste improves, after six weeks to three months the risk of heart attack stroke, respiratory disorders etc., also lower drastically. Furthermore, after one year of quitting, the danger of heart diseases and after 10 years, the threat of lung cancer lessens by 50 per cent.
Health effects of passive smoking
Discussing the effects of second-hand smoking, Dr H.S. Wilkhoo, Lifestyle Medicine Specialist at RAK Hospital, explains that the active smoker is considered as a person who smokes, and a passive smoker, also known as a second-hand smoker, is an individual who is close enough to inhale the smoke and suspended tobacco particles in the air.
The active smoker is exposed to numerous chemicals like gases, acids, hydrocarbons, etc., which are directly absorbed into the users' system. In contrast, the passive smoker is exposed to gases and chemicals present in the smoke. The active smoker controls their inhalation, whereas the passive smoker inhales the smoke or suspended tobacco particles during normal breathing.
“Passive smoking is very harmful to certain individuals who have comorbid health conditions, like respiratory ailments, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, etc., and children who have low immunity, pregnant women and partners of smokers,” says Dr Wilkhoo.
“Children are more vulnerable as they have low immunity. During infancy, severe exposure to second-hand smoke leads to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents. Meanwhile, passive smoking in adults who live close to the smoker suffer various health ailments such as reduced blood oxygen saturation, lower levels of antioxidants, vitamins, increased viscosity of blood and increased risk of clot formation. Chronic exposure to second-hand smoke in individuals with comorbid conditions also causes atherosclerosis and lung cancer.”