As COVID-19 continues to progress, questions are arising about the relationship between smoking and the virus, particularly if continuing to smoke makes you more likely to get COVID-19.
There is strong evidence that smoking increases the risk of both bacterial and viral infections, such as the common cold or flu.
Smoking weakens the body’s immune cells over time and makes it harder to fight infections. Tobacco smoke also impacts lung function, such as by causing mucus buildup in your lungs, which also increases the risk of infection.
We do not know how these factors relate specifically to COVID-19, but the key takeaway is that there could be a link, and attempting to quit could help lower your risk and reduce your chances of complications from the virus.
So far, we are not sure if people who smoke are more likely to be infected by COVID-19. We do know that people who smoke are generally at a higher risk of getting chest and lung infections, due to the damage that smoking causes to the lungs and the immune system. Smoking also involves repetitive hand-to-mouth movements, which provide a route of entry for viruses such as COVID-19 into the respiratory tract. Thus, it does appear likely that smoking would increase your risk of COVID-19.
There is growing evidence that people who smoke are likely to experience more severe illness if they do become infected. Tobacco smoke harms your lungs, including their ability to self-clean, and damages your immune system. This makes it harder to fight off infection and increases the risk of an infection becoming more serious. A review of cases of COVID-19 in China found that smokers were 1.4 times more likely to experience severe symptoms of COVID-19.
The bottom line: Smoking may or may not increase your chances of getting COVID-19 but, in the absence of more information, tobacco smoking appears to be the most important avoidable risk factor for a more severe case of COVID-19.
Find answers to more questions about COVID-19 and smoking/vaping at QuitNow.ca.
QuitNow is BC's smoking/vaping cessation resources. Funded by the Government of BC, QuitNow is delivered by the BC Lung Association.