‘Kick the habit’, say UAE doctors as studies show higher COVID-19 risks for smokers

Studies show smokers are more likely to suffer severe complications from COVID-19.

As studies show smokers are more likely to suffer severe complications from COVID-19, doctors in the UAE are urging tobacco users to stub out the habit.

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic looked at more than 7,000 people with COVID-19 and the results showed that people who smoke have a higher risk of hospitalization and death from the virus.

Heavy smokers, categorized as people who smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for more than 30 years, had the highest risk. This group was nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to be hospitalized, and the risk of death was nearly twice as likely compared to people who never smoked.

“We saw that the more an individual smokes, the more likely that person is going to be hospitalized when he, or she, gets infected with COVID,” said Dr Joe Zein, a respiratory specialist who led the research.

Dr Jyoti Upadhyay, an internal medicine specialist at UAE’s Aster Hospital, said smoking kills eight million people a year and if people need an incentive to quit – they should look no further than the risks associated with COVID-19.

“Studies conducted regarding the effect of smoking on outcome in COVID-19 patients revealed that smoking, current or past, is associated with higher mortality in COVID-19 patients,” said the doctor.

“Mortality among current smokers was about 50 per cent greater than former smokers. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight coronavirus.”

Quitting tobacco has an almost immediate positive impact on lung and cardiovascular function and these improvements increase as time goes by, said Dr Upadhyay.

“Quitting smoking is especially important at this time of pandemic, as this will reduce harm to the lungs and also touching the mouth with fingers is also reduced.”

“There are various means available to quit like nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, and prescription nicotine though a nasal spray or inhaler.”

The World Health Organization has also launched a year-long campaign to get 100 million people tobacco-free as it revealed millions of smokers now want to kick the habit amid health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO’s “Commit to Quit” campaign aims to help people stop smoking through creating “communities of quitters,” a statement from the organization said.

The WHO says smokers have a higher risk of contracting coronavirus because they are constantly putting their hands to their lips. And then, if they have coronavirus, they run a greater risk of their case being severe because their lung function is damaged.

Dr. Ragab Allam, a cardiovascular disease specialist at Bareen International Hospital in MBZ City, says smoking is a lethal addictive disorder.

“A lifetime smoker has a 50 per cent probability of dying due to smoking, and on average will lose ten years of life. Smoking is responsible for 50 per cent of all avoidable deaths in smokers. Slightly less than half of lifetime smokers will continue smoking until death.

“Quitting must be encouraged in all smokers. There is no age limit to the benefits of smoking cessation.”

“Stop smoking now is always the right time, not because of COVID-19 pandemic increases the risk of death and hospitalization among heavy smoker, but because it is always the delayed right decision.”

Alaa Zedan, a specialist in internal medicine at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery in Dubai said, “there is no best time to quit smoking.”

“The earlier you quit smoking it is good for your health. However, while the world is reeling under the effects of a pandemic, there is no other best time to quit smoking. It has been found that smokers are likely to be affected by severe form of COVID-19.”

As COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs, smokers are naturally going to face a increased risk of health factors associated with the virus, the doctor said.

“Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight the infection and would make the illness severe.”

“Tobacco is also a major cause for non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes which put people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19.”

“Smoking increases your risk of getting a severe form of COVID-19. As the COVID-19 infection affects the lungs and causes breathing difficulties, it is high time that people quit smoking.”

Health improvements are often as immediate as between two and twelve weeks of stopping smoking, said the doctor.

“Quitting smoking improves the health of the person and reduces the chance of being infected by various complicated and life-threatening diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other respiratory illnesses.”

“Also, your blood circulation improves within two to 12 weeks of stopping smoking. This makes physical activity a lot easier and lowers your risk of a heart attack.”

Quitting smoking can be challenging for a habitual smoker, said the doctor.

“The first step is to take a strong decision to quit smoking. The second is to resist the craving for tobacco. Those finding it difficult might try tobacco replacement therapy also.”