You may want to put down that cigarette or vape, now more than ever. According to some experts, smoking or vaping could make a person more vulnerable to a severe infection with the novel coronavirus.
There haven't been many studies that investigate the link between smoking or vaping and the pandemic sweeping the world. But, it's already established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that smoking harms the immune system and can hinder your body's ability to fight off infections. Smoking also increases inflammation in the body, studies have shown.
“All these things make me believe that we are going to have more severe cases—especially [in] people who are [long-term] smokers or vapers,” Melodi Pirzada, chief of pediatric pulmonology at NYU Winthrop Hospital on Long Island, told Scientific American.
Although she has not treated COVID-19 patients, she noted that “it is definitely common sense to think that once you have a history of smoking or vaping, the whole airways, the defense mechanism of your lungs—everything changes."
There's not much data, yet, to determine for sure what the impact of smoking may be on COVID-19 patients. One study involved 78 patients with COVID-19 and found that those with a history of smoking had a 14 percent higher risk of developing pneumonia. That research was published online in the Chinese Medical Journal.
“For regular smoking, we know it inhibits the ciliary clearance of the airways,” Pirzada explained to Scientific American. “We have these little [hairlike] structures known as cilia, and they are responsible for taking the toxins and the mucus out of our airways and clearing the lungs when we cough. We know that that is affected when you smoke and when you vape.”
Robert Tarran, a professor of cell biology and physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the science publication that while smoking is a known risk factor for the flu, vapers' risk of getting viral infections has not been studied as much. He did note, however, that some studies suggest vapers are more likely to get respiratory infections.
More study is needed to concretely link smoking or vaping to COVID-19, but experts say it's still a safe bet to quit the habit -- as there are numerous other health benefits to doing so.