As COVID-19 continues to spread, it’s natural to want to calculate your risk of infection. If you’re a smoker or vaper, it’s likely your risk is higher.
The number of cases of coronavirus has nearly reached 200,000 around the globe, yet there is still a significant amount unknown about the Covid-19 virus.
For example, scientists have not yet confirmed whether individuals who have contracted the virus then become immune to it, or whether it is possible to become reinfected.
“If you are a smoker or a vaper that does make you more vulnerable,” de Blasio said. “If you are a smoker or a vaper this is a very good time to stop that habit and we will help you.”
This is what you need to know about the link between smoking or vaping and coronavirus.
Does smoking cigarettes or vaping increase your chances of developing coronavirus and make it harder to recover?
According to Dr Michael Matthay, the associate director of critical care medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), the answer is yes - although it is not currently known to what extent.
“Based on prior studies with other pulmonary infections, both bacterial and viral, it is highly likely that cigarette smoking and vaping will increase the risk of coronavirus pneumonia and increase its severity, though we don’t know to what extent,” he said, according to SFGate.
The belief is based on previous studies that have found nicotine inhaled into the lungs of mice can delay the clearance of the influenza virus.
Experts have also pointed to a 2019 study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which found that 47.6 per cent of men in China smoke, to show a possible link between smoking and coronavirus - after China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more men were contracting and dying from coronavirus than women.
"Among Chinese patients diagnosed with Covid-19 associated pneumonia, the odds of disease progression (including to death) were 14 times higher among people with a history of smoking compared to those who did not smoke. This was the strongest risk factor among those examined," the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education said.
However, another possible explanation could be that men in China may be more likely to travel, according to Stat News.
There is substantial scientific literature showing that smoking inflames the lungs and suppresses immune function. “For regular smoking, we know it inhibits the ciliary clearance of the airways,” Pirzada says. “We have these little [hairlike] structures known as cilia, and they are responsible for taking the toxins and the mucus out of our airways and clearing the lungs when we cough. We know that that is affected when you smoke and when you vape.”
During a respiratory infection in the lungs, there tends to be an influx of white blood cells called neutrophils—the first responders that start killing the pathogen—followed by an influx of lymphocytes—which are responsible for clearing the infection. “There’s a very coordinated series of events that take place when you do become infected with a virus,” says Ray Pickles, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “These are probably the events that take place in the vast majority of us as individuals, whether we’re infected by influenza or whether we’re infected by SARS-CoV-2,” as the new coronavirus is known. “I think once you start perturbing this sequence of events in any which way or direction, that’s when things can go awry.”
While it is not confirmed what link, if any, exists between smoking and coronavirus, experts have confirmed that individuals who are older or have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or respiratory issues are at a higher risk of developing serious complications as a result of the virus.
“It is therefore reasonable to be concerned that compromised lung function or lung disease related to smoking history, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), could put people at risk for serious complications of Covid-19,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) states.
The organisation also adds that those who vape may also be at risk, as studies have found that vaping can harm lung health.
“Whether it can lead to COPD is still unknown, but emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection,” the NIH says, adding that one study found that influenza virus-infected mice exposed to these aerosols were found to have enhanced tissue damage and inflammation.