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Why it’s more important than ever to quit smoking

12:00am | & Health

One group of people at increased risk from coronavirus are those who smoke tobacco.

People who smoke generally have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infection and of experiencing more severe symptoms once infected.

Although the medical evidence on smoking and coronavirus is still developing, it’s clear that smokers who contract coronavirus (covid-19) are highly likely to suffer more severe symptoms and be at greater risk of dying. This is especially the case if smoking is combined with other known risk factors, such as old age or having an underlying medical condition.

Smoking causes damage to the lungs and airways and harms the immune system, reducing your ability to fight infection. It also involves repetitive hand-to-face movements, which increase the risk of viruses entering the body. Smokers might also be more likely to congregate in groups in designated smoking areas or shelters, again increasing the risk of virus-spread.

This all means that if you smoke, you generally have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infections, such as coronavirus, and you’re more likely to have underlying smoking-related conditions, which could lead to more severe disease outcomes.

People who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at generally increased risk of harm to their lungs and hearts. Children are especially at risk when exposed to secondhand smoke as they have less well-developed airways, lungs and immune systems.

Although it isn’t easy, the best way to cut your risk is to stop smoking. It will bring immediate health benefits, including if you have an existing smoking-related disease. This is particularly important at a time of intense pressure on the NHS. There is a lot of support available to help you to stop smoking, and getting the right support can boost your chances of success by up to three times.

Using nicotine replacement products reduces tobacco withdrawal symptoms and can help you to quit and stay smoke free. Visit Smokefree for information and advice on stopping smoking. One of the most effective ways is to switch to vaping (using e-cigarettes), which is far less damaging to the respiratory system than smoking.

It isn’t the addictive nicotine in cigarette smoke which is damaging, but the other toxins and tar from inhaling tobacco smoke. Some vaping liquids contain nicotine, so vaping can satisfy the craving without the harmful toxins and tar. You can then wean yourself off the nicotine by choosing vaping liquids with less nicotine content and ultimately none at all.

There is currently little scientific evidence on vaping and coronavirus and it’s unknown whether vaping makes you more susceptible to severe disease if you become infected. But even if it does, the risk is likely to be much less than if you smoke. Vaping remains much less harmful than smoking for most people and it is very important that you avoid returning to smoking.

However, vaping does still involve repetitive hand-to-face movements, providing a route into the body for viruses. To reduce that risk, vapers should thoroughly wash their hands more frequently than usual and/or use hand sanitiser, and also clean their vaping device regularly and never share it with others.

You should also maintain social distancing while vaping. There is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be caught from passive exposure to e-cigarette vapour, but vapers should still avoid exhaling clouds of vapour in the presence of others.

• Remember, if you want to quit smoking and need help and support, you can find it by clicking here to visit the NHS Smokefree website.

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