By now, most people have heard about the standard actions we all should take to avoid spreading or catching COVID-19: staying inside or physically distant from others; running only essential errands; not touching our faces; and washing hands thoroughly and often.
Less emphasis has been given to lifestyle behaviors that may affect your risk. More and more, experts are recognizing that smoking and vaping may play a role in your body’s response to the disease.
Anecdotal reports have suggested a link between vaping and poor COVID-19 outcomes, says Amanda Holm, project manager for Henry Ford’s Tobacco Treatment Service. She points to physicians in New York State who have called for banning tobacco and vaping products because of their possible effect on the outbreak. Also, a few days ago, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speculated that vaping in particular may relate to Michigan’s higher percentage of cases among people aged 20-49 years. Though there is not yet direct evidence for that, people with existing vaping-related lung damage are certainly at higher risk and must be especially careful.
Additionally, it is very likely that cigarette smoking will worsen the course of COVID-19, due to its impact on the immune system and the inflammation and tissue damage it causes. Smoking is known to worsen other respiratory and lung illnesses.
A recent report from China, where the COVID-19 virus is thought to have originated, suggested smokers had 14 times the risk of severe illness than non-smokers. Likewise, this suggests people should avoid secondhand smoke and keep their homes smoke-free as well.
“If nothing else, smoking has been shown to lower your immune system,” explains Holm. “Both smoking and vaping also involve putting something you have touched into your mouth, which goes against expert recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus.”
(If you do smoke or vape, be sure to at least wash your hands for at least 20 seconds beforehand, and don’t share cigarettes, lighters or vaping devices.)
How To Reduce Your Risk
So what would be the safest course of action? Quitting, of course. If you’ve been looking for a time to quit, this would be a great one. But right now, some may find it too stressful to consider giving up tobacco, vaping or nicotine for good. If you can’t face quitting completely right away, Holm recommends you try one of these ideas:
- Cut down as much as you can. Set a goal for yourself that is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound – such as “This week, I will cut out one cigarette/vape session each day for 7 days.” You may find that some of your smoking or vaping is easy to give up, and you’ll cut down your exposure to toxic smoke and chemicals.
- Stock up on supplies to help you quit. When you go out for groceries, pick up some nicotine lozenges, gum or patches, or order online. You can often find coupons online as well. You don’t have to be ready to quit for good – skip a cigarette or vape you would normally have and try a piece of nicotine gum or a lozenge instead.
- Try quitting for a single day. Getting some experience and a success under your belt will build your confidence to quit for good at some point. Notice what actions, people, places and thoughts help you avoid cravings and urges to smoke or vape.
- Talk to an expert. Henry Ford patients can call the Tobacco Treatment Service at 1-888-427-7587 or email TobaccoFree@hfhs.org for support, Holm says. Or you can try the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
The good news is, lungs heal fairly quickly when someone stops smoking or vaping. There’s still time to get your lungs in their best shape to fight off illness, and reap lots of other health benefits along the way.
Check out Tobacco Treatment Services at Henry Ford Health for more information. For up-to-date information about Henry Ford Health’s response to the coronavirus, visit henryford.com/coronavirus.
Amanda L. Holm, MPH, is the chair of the Michigan Health Alliance for Tobacco Treatment and project manager for Tobacco Treatment Services for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.