EXCLUSIVE: Why quitting smoking is your best bet at keeping the Coronavirus at bay according to an expert
With the Covid-19 pandemic taking over the world, quitting smoking has become more critical than ever.
If you’ve been trying to quit smoking, this is the best time to give it up entirely. Smokers fall in the high-risk group for Covid-19 and given their weak lung function, chances of severe symptoms and complications are even more if they do not quit. Staying determined to your quitting goals is essential to safely managing withdrawal symptoms. If you make up your mind to quit, you can succeed with proven effective methods.
Research has already established that both vaping and smoking damage lungs and alter immune responses, increasing susceptibility to respiratory viruses. Several studies have also linked smoking to severe COVID-19 outcomes stating that current and former smokers have a significantly increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 and that former smokers have a significantly increased risk of dying from the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also indicated that tobacco users and ex-users are at greater risk of being infected through the mouth while they’re smoking.
Tobacco users have also been found to be more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, to need a ventilator, and to die of the virus. Anything damaging the lungs creates the possibility of more illness, and that's exactly what the epidemiology of COVID-19 is showing. Studies across the globe have begun to establish that smoking nearly doubles the risk of progression of COVID-19 and that when the disease worsened, current or former smokers had more acute conditions or were more likely to die. Young adults who smoked e-cigarettes, regular cigarettes, or both were five to seven times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than nonusers.
The chances of developing cancers even after 10-20 years of quitting smoking also cannot be ruled out. Based on empirical and clinical evidence, oncologists have warned people that even if a person has stopped smoking after being habituated to it for several years, cancers can still develop and even recur after having been successfully treated the first time. Cigarettes, gutka, and tobacco cause throat, tracheal and lung cancers constitute nearly 7 per cent of total cancers and even former smokers are at high risk of these cancers. As per an ICMR study conducted a few years ago, over 8 lakh people died of cancers and it was found that tobacco, alcohol use and dietary risks were the top reasons behind rising cancer deaths in the country. According to WHO, cancer claimed 9.6 million lives in the world in 2018 and India’s share was a worrying 8.17 per cent. Other reports have also pointed to the fact that cancer is India’s second-biggest killer after heart disease.
There has never been a better time to quit smoking. There is enough motivation to do so as the threat of contracting this deadly virus looms large. If you have gone awry with your resolution to quit and have returned to smoking, recommit to living a smoke-free life. Quitting is never an easy decision, but there are measures you can adopt to protect yourself and others during this pandemic:
Understand your nicotine withdrawal symptoms - Common symptoms include irritability, poor sleep, difficulty concentrating, or increased appetite and sometimes even cold or mild flu. If you feel that these could be symptoms associated with Covid, call your doctor
Try a quit smoking medication – You could also consider using approved prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help you quit. Talk to your doctor for the best options
Manage your stress levels: The stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can cause you to slip back to smoking. Be gentle with yourself and keep trying to become smoke-free again
Recognise depression: If you are feeling depressed after quitting or are thinking of hurting yourself, get help by calling your doctor at the earliest
Set a new quit date: Keep trying, again and again, to quit and give yourself a new deadline. It takes most people a number of tries before they can quit for good
Make your home smoke free: Don’t smoke in your house or car and don’t allow others either. Ask them to keep their cigarettes and lighters away from sight and not expose you to the smell
Focus on things in your control: Don’t let the pandemic make you anxious. Focus on what is in your control right now. Being in the moment can help get over the urge to smoke
About the author: Dr. Surender Kumar Dabas, Senior Director & HOD, Surgical Oncology & Robotic Surgery, BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital.