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FAQs for health professionals – Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Smoking

Q. Are people who smoke at higher risk of COVID-19?

The evidence to suggest that people who smoke are at higher risk of COVID-19 is still emerging. However, there is strong evidence that people who smoke are at higher risk of acute respiratory tract infections generally, including bronchitis and influenza. Smoking increases the incidence, duration and severity of viral respiratory infections and has also been found to increase the risk of pneumonia.  Read more at Tobacco in Australia.

In addition, the hand-to-mouth action of smoking means that people who smoke may be more vulnerable to COVID-19, as they are touching their face and mouth more often.

Q. Are people who smoke more likely to have complications from COVID-19?

This evidence is still emerging. However, smoking impairs immune system functioning, both systemically and locally in the lung. Smoking impairs mucociliary clearance, increases inflammatory responses and causes cellular changes in the lining of the airway.  Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that people who smoke are more likely to be more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19.

There is also evidence that people with co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease and cancer (which are caused by smoking, in many cases) are more likely to experience severe complications of COVID-19. 

Q. How long do people have to stop smoking for to reduce their risk of complications from COVID-19?

This is not currently known for COVID-19 specifically, but it is well-established the stopping smoking improves lung health. For example, quitting improves mucociliary clearance in the nose after two weeks, and in the lungs after three months. Rates of bronchitis and pneumonia also decrease, compared to continued smoking.

Q. How can health professionals best support people who smoke?

1 in 33 conversations in which a health professional advises a patient to quit smoking will result in them successfully quitting. Health professionals can provide smoking cessation brief advice to people who smoke, which involves three steps: 

  • Ask people about their smoking status.
  • Advise all people who smoke to quit in a clear, non-confrontational and personalised way. 
  • Help all people who smoke to quit, by referring to Quitline and prescribing, or helping people to access, smoking cessation pharmacotherapy (such as nicotine replacement therapy). 

There is also an Aboriginal Quitline for people who smoke identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. For more information about brief advice, visit: quit.org.au/generalpractice.

Last updated: 26/03/2020

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