Affinity Health: Tobacco use and the COVID-19 virus
Are smokers more likely to develop severe complications from COVID-19, compared to non-smokers? Affinity Health examines the link between tobacco use, nicotine use, and coronavirus.
For decades it’s been known that smoking increases the risk and severity of many respiratory infections and diseases. However, there is currently insufficient evidence to confirm any link between tobacco or nicotine and adverse Covid-19 disease prognosis, including the need for mechanical ventilation, the need for intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalization and death.
“While smokers may be happy with these findings, it’s no reason to ditch your resolution to quit smoking in 2021,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health. “Oftentimes, smokers already have serious heart and lung health issues. Add COVID-19 to the mix, and you are playing with fire.”
Tobacco smoke damages the tiny air sacs found in the lungs where oxygen enters the blood. It also irritates the broom-like hairs (called cilia), which clean the lungs. Smoking also causes the cells that produce mucus in your lungs and airways to grow in size and number. As a result, the volume of mucus increases and thickens. Your lungs can’t efficiently clean out this excess mucus, so it stays in your airways, clogs them, and makes you cough. This extra mucus is also prone to infection, which is why smokers are affected more severely by infectious diseases such as influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis.
In addition, years of smoking can lead to a type of lung failure known as emphysema. People over 40 years old, or those who smoked for long periods, are at higher risk for this chronic condition.
Patients who are already contending with breathlessness, wheezing or lung problems due to smoking may run a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
Whether you’re an occasional smoker, social smoker, or a lifetime pack-a-day smoker, quitting now can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other killers.
Affinity Health recommends the following steps to quit the habit once and for all:
- Ask your doctor or health care professional about nicotine replacement therapy. The options include prescription nicotine in a nasal spray or inhaler, over-the-counter nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, and prescription non-nicotine stop-smoking medications.
- Identify and avoid triggers that may make you want to light up.
- Give your mouth something to do to fight a tobacco craving, such as chewing on sugarless gum, raw veggies, nuts, and seeds.
- Physical activity can help distract you from tobacco cravings and reduce their intensity. Even a short walk around the block, or choosing to take the stairs over the elevator, can make a tobacco craving go away.
- Whenever you crave a cigarette, practice relaxation techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, yoga, visualisation, massage, or listening to calming music.
- Join an online stop-smoking programme and lean on others for support and encouragement.
“There are several different methods that have successfully helped people to kick the smoking habit. Arguably, the most important first step is making that commitment to yourself to be tobacco-free,” concludes Hewlett.
About Affinity Health
Affinity Health aims to provide premier quality, affordable medical insurance to South Africans. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service when they are faced with injury or illness. We work to deliver innovative solutions that are simple, cost-effective, and proven, so our cover is structured to ensure that you get exactly what you need. For more information, follow us on Facebook, and Instagram.