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Smokers likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19: Health Ministry

When fingers come in contact with lips, it increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth, warned the Union Health Ministry on July 29, 2020. Image shows a man refusing a cigarette from a pack of smokes concept for quitting smoking and healthy lifestyle.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with the lips, increasing the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth, warned the Union Health Ministry on Wednesday.

A senior official at the Ministry said they had inputs from experts who “confirmed that smokers are more likely to develop severe symptoms or die from COVID-19, as it primarily attacks the lungs.”

Also read: Why people are giving up smoking during the COVID-19 lockdown

“Further, smoking products such as water pipes or hookah often involves the sharing of mouth-pieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of COVID-19 in communal and social settings. Evidence from countries reporting COVID-19 related fatalities has highlighted that the people with pre-existing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are more susceptible to becoming severely ill with COVID-19,’’ he said.

The Ministry pointed out that chewing tobacco products (khaini, gutkha, paan, zarda) also increased the urge to spit. Spitting in public places increased health risks, especially those of spreading the infectious and contagious diseases like COVID-19, tuberculosis, swine flu, encephalitis, etc.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan noted that there was emerging evidence that smoking increased the risk for COVID-19 as well as worsened the outcome in people who got infected with the virus.

Alcohol intake

“Alcohol intoxication can also increase the risk and the other effects, including a reduction of immunity, can increase the risk. Similar effects can be anticipated with other drugs as well,’’ he said.

The Minister was speaking at the release of an e-book titled Standard Treatment Guidelines for the Management of Substance Use Disorders and Behavioural Addictions that aims to tackle substance abuse and behavioural addiction in the country.

A two-page advisory issued by the Ministry said, “Smoking, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, pan masala and like products can increase risk and severity of pulmonary infections because of damage to upper airways and a decrease in pulmonary immune function.”

Four main NCDs

It cautioned that tobacco users were at higher risk of developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19 as tobacco abuse was a major risk factor for the four main NCDs — cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes — which put people with these conditions at additional risk during the pandemic.

The NCDs were estimated to account for 63% of all deaths in India and these were expected to rise further. Tobacco use was also a risk factor for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and lower respiratory infections — health burdens that afflicted much of humanity, it said.

Also read: Comment | COVID-19 in the time of NCDs

The use of tobacco was a risk factor for many respiratory infections and increased the severity of respiratory diseases. Tobacco smoke, including second-hand smoke, contained over 7,000 chemicals, out of which more than 69 were cancer causing, it noted.

The chemicals in tobacco smoke suppressed the activity of different types of immune cells that were involved in general and targeted immune responses. Smoking impaired lung function, thereby reducing the immunity and making it harder for the body to fight off various diseases, it added.

Non-communicable diseases top killers in South-East Asia: WHO

Manoj Goel, Head of Pulmonology, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, said: “Consumption of tobacco reduces the lung capacity and impacts the immunity to fight infections. Smoking also leads to other co-morbidities that increase the risk factors during COVID-19. Measures should be taken to curb tobacco consumption and to reduce the health burden on the country during and post pandemic.”

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 12:41:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/smokers-likely-to-be-more-vulnerable-to-covid-19-warns-health-ministry/article32219529.ece

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