What smokers should know about COVID-19

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By Vivien Williams

Everyone is at risk of contracting COVID-19. The illness is particularly dangerous for people with underlying conditions, such as heart or lung disease. Dr. Neal Patel, a Mayo Clinic pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist, says people who smoke tobacco products also may be at increased risk of becoming very sick if they contract the virus.

"Smoking makes you more susceptible to COVID-19, because it destroys some of your lung's natural defense mechanisms," says Dr. Patel. "Vaping may do the same thing."

A recent blog published by the National Institutes of Health explains that initial reviews of cases of COVID-19 in China show that smokers may have developed more severe disease than nonsmokers.

More research is needed to determine what effect smoking or vaping has on people with COVID-19, but Dr. Patel says people should do whatever than can to quit now.

How smoking puts lungs at risk

"Smoking or vaping destroys the cilia in the lungs," says Dr. Patel. "The cilia are tiny, hairlike follicles that help to trap viruses and debris, and move them up and out of your lungs so they don't stay there and cause issues.

“The cilia acts as one of the main defense systems against infection. Without that cilia, smokers, unfortunately, are a little bit defenseless. And it explains why some smokers who develop common colds may develop prolonged coughs for weeks to months. Somebody who has healthy lungs may bounce back more rapidly."

How vaping puts lungs at risk

"Research suggests that vaping may also harm cilia in the lungs," says Dr. Patel. "I recommend people stop vaping to maintain lung health and reduce the risk of developing severe disease if they contract COVID-19."

Now is the time to quit

"There's no better time to quit smoking than today," says Dr. Patel. "Active smokers are at increased risk for COVID-19 to cause them problems. So, again, there is no better time to quit than today."

Talk to your health care provider for information about strategies that can help you quit smoking. — SG


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