Are you a tobacco user who is considering quitting during the pandemic? What impact does COVID-19 have on your body if you’re a tobacco user? Hello and welcome to Science in 5, I’m Vismita Gupta-Smith (VGS) and these are WHO’s conversations in science. Today we are talking to Dr Hebe Gouda (DHG) about tobacco and COVID-19. Welcome, Hebe . Let’s start with how COVID-19 impacts the body of a tobacco user.
DHG: We now know that the evidence strongly indicates that smokers are up to 50 percent more likely to suffer worse from COVID-19 disease. That means that smokers are more likely to have worse symptoms, more likely to be hospitalized, more likely to be admitted into intensive care units and require help with breathing and/or ventilation. Ultimately, smokers are more likely to die from COVID-19 disease than someone who has never smoked. In general, we know that tobacco has many harms to people’s health that causes heart disease, diabetes, lung conditions like chronic lung disease and cancers like lung cancer. And all these conditions too, we now know, make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 disease.
VGS: Hebe, we know how harmful tobacco is to our health. And yet during this pandemic, we saw the tobacco industry come up with new and innovative ways of getting more and more people hooked onto tobacco. Talk to us about these efforts by the industry.
DHG: Sure. Yes. The tobacco industry and other industries that are involved in the manufacturing and marketing of e-cigarettes, for example, were very active during the pandemic and continue to be so. Particularly at times of lockdown, for example, they ensured that consumers had continuous access to these harmful products through contactless delivery, for example, or curbside drop-offs. And what is particularly concerning about those forms of access is that those who are under age, who would normally not have access or difficulty accessing these products, could be made potentially easier through this contactless delivery system. We also know that they were providing promotional discounts, appropriating the #StayAtHome hashtag on social media for their own marketing purposes, and claiming that these nicotine and tobacco electronic products were the good companions for working from home contexts, et cetera. On a more globally strategic level, they really tried hard to seem like part of the solution to the pandemic by donating things like ventilators to countries, as well as other personal protective equipment and masks with their own logos on it, et cetera. Meanwhile, staying completely silent on their role in the over eight million deaths due to tobacco every year.
VGS: Hebe, many people decided to quit using tobacco during the pandemic. Describe to us what happens to our bodies when we quit tobacco.
DHG: The benefits to our body when we quit smoking and tobacco use in general are almost immediate. Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure have improved. Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood will have reduced to normal. Within two to 12 weeks, you can expect your lung function and circulation to have improved. And in fact, within one to four years of quitting, your risk of dying is about half that of a current smoker. So, the best time to quit is now.
VGS: The best time to quit is now. That was Dr Hebe Gouda talking to us about tobacco and COVID-19. Thank you very much for joining us. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science. – WHO