Smokers Vulnerable to Serious Complications of COVID-19


By Henrylito D. Tacio


Smokers are more likely to develop the serious complications of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) compared to non-smokers, according to a review of studies by public health experts convened by the World Health Organization (WHO).

E-smoking (Courtesy of WHO)

“COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs,” said the United Nations health agency in a statement.  “Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases.  Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death.”

There were some reports that tobacco can be used in treating COVID-19.  The WHO dispels it and in fact urges researchers, scientists and the media “to be cautious about amplifying unproven claims that tobacco or nicotine could reduce the risk of COVID-19.”

Nicotine contained in tobacco is highly addictive. “The American Heart Association says that nicotine consumed from smoking tobacco is one of the hardest substances to quit,” wrote Adam Feldman for Medical News Today.  “It is considered to be at least as hard as quitting heroin.”

Some people try to stop smoking but mostly fail.  Feldman reports: “People who regularly consume nicotine and then suddenly stop experience withdrawal symptoms, which may include: cravings, a sense of emptiness, anxiety, depression, moodiness, irritability and difficulty focusing or paying attention.”

But there are some helps.  “Nicotine replacement therapies, such as gum and patches are designed to help smokers quit tobacco,” the WHO said, urging smokers to take immediate steps to quit by using proven methods such as toll-free quit lines, mobile text-messaging programs and nicotine replacement therapies.

What happens to those who quit smoking?  There are immediate and long-term health benefits.  Beneficial health changes that take place: within 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop and within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

Lung diseases (Courtesy of WHO)

Here are more health benefits: 2-12 weeks, your circulation improves and your lung function increases; 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease; 1 year, your risk of coronary heart disease is about half that of a smoker’s; 5 years, your stroke risk is reduce to that of a non-smoker 5 to 15 years after quitting; and 10 years, your risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker and your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas decreases.

According to the WHO, the following are benefits in comparison with those who continued: at about 30, gain almost 10 years of life expectancy; at about 40, gain 9 years of life expectancy; at about 50, gain 6 years of life expectancy; at about 60, gain 3 years of life expectancy.

“People who quit smoking after having a heart attack reduce their chances of having another heat attack by 50%,” the WHO states.

In addition, quitting smoking reduces the chances of impotence among men.  Among women, stopping smoking reduces having difficulty of getting pregnant, having premature births, babies with low birth weights and miscarriage.

Tobacco use is a cause or risk factor for many diseases; especially those affecting the heart, liver, and lungs, as well as many cancers.  In 2008, WHO named tobacco use as the world’s single greatest preventable cause of death.

“Tobacco kills more than 8 million people globally every year,” the WHO says.  “More than 7 million deaths are from direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.”

According to the UN health agency, nearly half of all children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and 65,000 children die each year due to illnesses related to second-hand smoke.

More than 70 species of tobacco are known but the chief commercial crop is Nicotiana tabacum.  “Tobacco has long been used in the Americas, with some cultivation sites in Mexico dating back to 1400-100 B.C.,” Wikipedia reports.  “Many native American tribes traditionally grow and use tobacco.”

The English word tobacco originates from the Spanish and Portuguese word tabaco.  “The precise origin of this word is disputed, but it is generally thought to have derived at lest in part from Taino, the Arawakan language of the Caribbean,” Wikipedia says.

History records showed tobacco being introduced in the Philippines in the late 16th century during the era of Spanish colonization when the Augustinians brought cigar tobacco seeds to the colony for cultivation. In 1686, William Dampier visited Mindanao and observed that smoking was already a widespread custom.

A report by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance in 2014 showed the Philippines has about 17 million smokers – or nearly a third of the adult population.   Nearly half of all Filipino men and 9% of women smoke.  The study said the habit costs the economy nearly $4 billion a year in healthcare and productivity losses.

Smoking (Courtesy of WHO)

The WHO says there are some 4,000 known chemicals in tobacco smoke.

“When burned, cigarettes create more than 7,000 chemicals,” the American Lung Association states.  “At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are toxic. Many of these chemicals are also found in consumer products but these products have warning labels.  (But) there is no such warning for the toxins in tobacco smoke.”

Among the chemicals found in tobacco smoke and where these are also found: acetone (found in nail polish remover), acetic acid (an ingredient in hair dye), ammonia (a common household cleaner), arsenic (used in rat poison), benzene (found in rubber cement and gasoline), butane (used in lighter fluid), and cadmium (active component in battery acid).

Here are more chemicals, mostly lethal: carbon monoxide (released in car exhaust fumes), formaldehyde (embalming fluid),  lead (used in batteries), naphthalene (an ingredient in mothballs), methanol (a main component in rocket fuel), nicotine (used as an insecticide), tar (material for paving roads), and toluene (used to manufacture paint).

“The Philippines has made progress on tobacco control in recent years,” the Tobacco Atlas states.  “However, people continue to die and become sick needlessly, and the costs to society from tobacco use continue to mount.”

Every year, the website claims, “more than 117,700 of its people are killed by tobacco-caused disease.  Still, more than 94,000 children (10-14 years old) and 12,338,000 (15 years old and above) continue to use tobacco each day.”

On May 28, the world will celebrate the World No Tobacco Day.  “Every four seconds, tobacco takes another life,” the WHO said in a statement.  “Decades of the tobacco industry’s deception and devious tactics have hooked generation of users to nicotine and tobacco, driving this global epidemic.” – ###

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