The Primary Health Care Centre (PHCC) has reiterated the harmful effects of smoking during the Covid-19 pandemic in the light of preliminary and ongoing research that suggests that all tobacco use could result in life-threatening complications for smokers who become infected.
Dr Mohammed al-Otaibi, senior family medicine consultant at PHCC’s Leabaib Health Centre, said the research brought to the fore a number of important questions with regard to smoking and its association with Covid-19. “When we speak of smoking, we mean all forms of tobacco use. Many questions come to mind. Does smoking have anything to do with the spread of Covid-19 Does it have any association with the complications and the severity of the disease, or its recovery?”
Dr al-Otaibi said shisha and the actions taken to smoke it could be a contributing factor to the spread of the disease, as sharing the tube and the oral piece of the shisha could lead to the transmission of infectious diseases. Additionally, the humidity in the shisha and the tube might provide a fertile environment for germs to stay outside the body for a longer period of time.
Settings such as cafes and social gatherings where shisha is generally available, and the proximity of one person to another in these environments, could also increase the danger of catching the novel coronavirus.
If infected, a smoker’s persistent cough might contribute to the spread of the virus, while a cigarette smoker was more likely to touch their mouth with their fingers, which exposed them to risk of infection through contaminated hands.
It has been reported that 20% of people infected with Covid-19 need to go to the hospital, and 5% need intensive care. The disease leads to death in between one and five per cent of those infected, spurring on researchers to try to pinpoint the risk factors that make some people more vulnerable to severe infection and complications than others, PHCC has said in a statement.
Several factors have been found, the most important of which is age, as older persons are at higher risk of severe illness and death due to infection. Other risk factors include persons with cardiovascular disease; diabetes; high blood pressure; cancer; chronic lung disease;
respiratory failure; kidney failure and general immunodeficiency.
A study in China, meanwhile, found that smokers were 14 times more likely than non-smokers to develop pneumonia, and more susceptible to contracting severe diseases.
This came as no surprise to Dr al-Otaibi. “It has been proven that viral and bacterial respiratory infections in smokers are more severe than an average person, and can last longer. Smokers contracting the novel coronavirus are also more vulnerable than non-smokers to
complications that can result in death. This is due to the virus mainly attacking the lungs, which are weakened by smoking, and affected lungs can be more easily damaged,” explained Dr al-Otaibi.
“Moreover, smoking weakens the immune system, and leads to cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, which are all risk factors that can cause the novel coronavirus to be severe and life-threatening.”
After quitting smoking, a person’s heart and lung functions begin to improve directly, leading to milder infection, better response and faster improvement in case of infection, as well as reducing the risk of dying from the disease.
It is necessary to raise public awareness of the health risks of smoking, according to PHCC, and to take the necessary precautions to prevent the disease from spreading if infected with the novel coronavirus. These preventive measures include staying at home and washing hands regularly, among other Covid-19 health guidelines.
Dr al-Otaibi advised smokers to take an immediate decision to quit smoking, as it was not known how long the Covid-19 pandemic would last and to what extent it would spread.
He said: “The current situation could be a positive factor to quit successfully, change daily routines and avoid gatherings and places that encourage smoking.
“Once a decision is made, regardless of the circumstances, it needs determination to stay on course. You are the owner of your well-being. Make a lifestyle change - the time is right to do so.”