We answer commonly asked questions about COVID-19 and smoking.
People who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections. There is growing evidence that if people who smoke are infected with coronavirus, they are more likely to have severe COVID-19 disease compared to someone who has never smoked. People with poor lung health and other conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer (which can be caused by smoking) are also at higher risk of more severe COVID-19 disease. It’s not clear for how long a person needs to stop smoking to reduce their risk. It’s important to remember stopping smoking has many health benefits, even beyond a link with COVID-19, so it’s always a good time to quit. Quitline continues to be available to offer support.
Q. Are people who smoke at higher risk of COVID-19?
It's not clear if people who smoke are more likely to get COVID-19. But we do know that they are at a higher risk of getting respiratory infections in general.
The hand-to-mouth action of smoking and e-cigarette use may also mean people who smoke may be more vulnerable to COVID-19. This is because they are touching their face and mouth more often.
It’s also possible aerosols may spread the virus. This means that tobacco smoke and e-cigarette aerosols could transmit the virus (in the air and as they settle on surfaces), but more research is needed.
Sharing any type of tobacco or smoking product (for example, cigarettes, e-cigarettes or shisha/waterpipes) can also increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Q. Are people who smoke more likely to have severe complications if they do get COVID-19?
There is some evidence to suggest people who smoke are likely to be more severely affected by COVID-19. This may be because smoking damages the lungs so they don’t work as well. For example, lungs naturally produce mucus, but people who smoke have more and thicker mucus that is hard to clean out of the lungs. This mucus clogs the lungs and is prone to becoming infected. Smoking also affects the immune system, making it harder to fight infection.
There is also evidence that people with other health conditions (like cardiovascular disease and cancer) are more likely to have more severe COVID-19 disease. Smoking increases the risk of many of these conditions.
Q. What if I previously smoked? Am I still at more risk of COVID-19?
People who have previously smoked might also be at higher risk of severe COVID-19 complications. It’s not known for how long someone needs to have quit to have the same level of risk as someone who has never smoked.
The good news is that when people stop smoking,
there are immediate health benefits. For example, the lungs start to heal
quickly. Breathing improves as the lungs get better at clearing
mucus and other particles.
Q. For how long do people have to stop smoking to reduce their risk of COVID-19 and possible complications?
This is not currently known for COVID-19 specifically. But stopping smoking improves lung health within a few months. Rates of lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia also decrease.
If you’re still trying to quit (or even if you have recently quit), there are other things you can do to protect yourself and others. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about getting the flu shot for both you and your family. Also avoid exposing people around you to second hand smoke.
Thinking about stopping smoking? Visit out new Quit Tips Hub for tools, tips, videos and stories from people who have quit.
Q. Is it still safe to start, or continue to use, nicotine replacement therapy and other stop smoking medications?
For people who smoke, stop smoking medications can help to reduce cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms. Tailored support from Quitline plus these medications give people the best chance of quitting successfully.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 has an impact on the safety and effectiveness of these medications. If you are already using these medications, it is safe to continue to do so, as instructed by your doctor. If you are thinking about starting these medications, it is best to first speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Remember to wash your hands before you use any type of NRT or other stop smoking medication, just as you would before handling food.
Q. How can I tell the difference between nicotine withdrawal symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms?
People who have recently stopped smoking may experience cravings and nicotine withdrawal symptoms. These can include disturbed sleep, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms are usually temporary and disappear after about 2 to 4 weeks.
Other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal might include a cough and sore throat. These are less common and are usually also temporary. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms may be confused with the symptoms of COVID-19. It’s important to remember that fever isn’t a symptom of nicotine withdrawal.
It’s best to speak to your doctor or call the coronavirus hotline if you are worried you may have COVID-19.
For more information about nicotine withdrawal, visit: https://www.quit.org.au/articles/what-is-nicotine-withdrawal/
Q. Where can I get the best support to stop smoking?
The best thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking. The best way to stop smoking is to use Quitline 13 7848, plus stop smoking medications, for instance nicotine patches and gum. Quitline counsellors are available Mon – Friday 8am – 8pm and provide personalised, non-judgmental and empathetic support to help you quit.
Quitline is an inclusive and culturally safe space for all, including the LGBTIQA+ community. There is also an Aboriginal Quitline for people who smoke identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. To access Aboriginal Quitline, call 13 7848 and ask to speak with one of our friendly Aboriginal Quitline counsellors. We also have an interpreter service available if you speak a language other than English.
Explore our website at quit.org.au for more info, tips and tools to help you, whether or not you're ready to quit.
Last updated: 24/09/2020
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