The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued an advisory on Tuesday that warned people against believing in a non-peer-reviewed study from France that claimed smokers are less vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. The study came about 3 months ago. The Ministry in its advisory claimed that contrary to the study findings, smoking nicotine or tobacco products increases the risk and severity of respiratory infections including Covid-19. This is because the act of smoking involves contacting fingers with lips which increases the risk of the COVID transmission in the body.
The Health Ministry Advisory said, “Smoking products such as water pipes or hookah often involve the sharing of mouth-pieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of Covid-19 in communal and social settings”.
It added, “As smoking affects the functioning of the lungs, smokers are more likely to die from Covid-19 or get a more severe form of the infection”. The World Health Organization too in May had issued an advisory claiming that tobacco use increases the risk of contracting Covid-19″.
The advisory stated, “Tobacco use is a major risk factor for the four main non-communicable diseases – cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes which put people at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by Covid-19. These diseases account for 63 per cent of all deaths in India, and these are expected to rise further. Smoking also suppresses immunity, making it difficult for the body to fight various diseases. Cigarettes contain over 69 cancer-causing chemicals, which suppress the immune cells.”
And added, “Even products like e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, pan masala and the like increase the risk for severe lung infections. The benefits of quitting smoking are experienced within hours. Just 12 hours after quitting it, the carbon monoxide level in the bloodstream goes down to normal, while in two to 12 weeks, circulation improves and lung function increases. After 1-9 weeks, coughing and shortness of breath decrease.”
In the context of the study, the ministry commented, “The findings of these studies are inconsistent with the broader existing evidence that tobacco use impacts the lungs and other organs, lowers immunity and makes people vulnerable to Covid-19. The French study used limited data sets and the findings are inconclusive. Researchers of these studies do acknowledge the limitation in the study that hospitals were probably not recording patients’ smoking status properly as they were too busy treating patients”.