As new data is continually being published about COVID-19 risk factors, a renewed call for quitting smoking has been sounded.

With all of the news and reports on COVID-19, we find ourselves thinking about our work with our partners on healthy living, and more specifically our work on tobacco control. There have been several studies and reports recently on the effect of smoking on patients with COVID-19, and the data suggests that now there is another reason to quit smoking.

In a Q&A on smoking and COVID-19, the WHO is reporting that smokers may “already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness.” They also point out that the act of smoking itself involves holding a product that is touching your mouth, “which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth.”

The New York State Academy of Family Physicians has released a statement calling for a ban on the sale of all tobacco/vaping products during the pandemic. They cite a recent study on COVID-19 patients that suggested that “patients who use tobacco are 14 times as likely” to require more extensive treatment and hospitalization.

Another study in China of 1099 patients with COVID-10 reported that 16.9% of patients with severe symptoms were current smokers and 5.2% were former smokers. Current smokers only accounted for 12.6% of the 1099 patients and yet made up 25.8% of the patients that ended up either being admitted to an ICU, needing the use of mechanical ventilation, or dying.

The CDC has shared guidelines on people who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. At risk includes people with chronic lung disease, which is often caused by smoking, and people who are immunocompromised, which can also be caused by smoking.

On the bright side, there is anecdotal evidence that COVID-19 is influencing people to change their habits. Actress Patricia Arquette tweeted “As COVID-19 attacks the lungs one of the most important things you can do is to quit smoking and vaping. I’m in day 3. Care to join?”

Patricia Arquette tweet

The resulting lockdowns are also providing a space for people to quit smoking. No longer having safe access to stores means that smokers are also no longer face-to-face with tobacco products. In the popular StopSmoking subreddit, one user stated “21 day lockdown in my country. I am gonna kick this habit once and for all.” Another user wrote that their country of India imposed a 21 day lockdown, “and I’m stuck here without cigarettes. This might be the best time available for me to stop smoking. I will save myself from coronavirus as well as tobacco.”

We agree with the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids statement that “there has never been a better time for smokers to quit and for individuals to protect their health by avoiding use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.”

As COVID-19 continues to introduce new challenges, we are all learning to rise to new and changing demands. We remain focused on our work in public health, and although the pandemic may be difficult, it is now more important than ever that we advocate for the individuals and communities that are most vulnerable.