Coronavirus and smoking: know the risks

We know this is a worrying time for lots of people, especially if you’re a smoker and want to quit to reduce your risks. Here we answer commonly asked questions.

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on the Greater Manchester Stop Smoking Helpline: 0300 123 1044

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Are people who smoke more at risk of coronavirus?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory infection that affects the lungs and airways. People who smoke generally have a higher risk of these infections. This is because smoking damages the lungs and weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight infections. The hand-to-mouth action of smoking could also increase the risk of catching or spreading the virus.

Are people who smoke more likely to have severe complications if they get coronavirus?

Evidence shows smokers in hospital with coronavirus are more likely to get severe complications than non-smokers, which is why it’s really important to try to quit to protect yourself.

If you have an existing health condition such as poor lung health (asthma or COPD), high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes or any other condition that is often caused by or made worse by smoking, then the best thing you can do for your health is quit smoking. Anyone with an existing health condition is considered at a higher risk of coronavirus (“clinically vulnerable”) should keep up to date with the government’s advice.

I thought nicotine can help protect against COVID-19, so how can smoking increase the risk?

A study in France is looking into whether nicotine, not smoking, can help prevent or lessen symptoms of COVID-19. Nicotine is a substance in tobacco which is often used to help smokers manage cravings when they stop smoking.

The results of this study have not yet been published and the researchers have warned smoking carries other potentially fatal health risks. While nicotine may protect people from the virus, smokers who have caught it often develop more serious symptoms because of the toxic effect of tobacco smoke on the lungs.

These reports shouldn’t put you off trying to quit, but encourage you to use alternative sources of nicotine, which are far less harmful than cigarettes, to help you quit smoking.

If I quit smoking now, will it reduce my risk?

If you’re a smoker and are worried about the risks, then now would be a good time to think about quitting for good.

According to a YouGov survey, (“more than 300,000 people in the UK have already quit smoking since the coronavirus outbreak”).

From the moment you quit smoking your body starts to heal itself which will help your ability to fight off the illness. And that’s not all. Breathing gets easier, you cough less, feel less stressed and anxious, your mood improves, and you’ll have more energy.

In as little as 48 hours after your last cigarette, carbon monoxide will have left your body and your lungs will have started to clear out mucus. After 72 hours your breathing will get easier and after two weeks your blood circulation improves, making physical activity like walking and running easier.

Am I still at risk if I used to smoke?

It’s not yet known how long is long enough to reduce the risk to the same as someone who has never smoked. But the lungs do heal relatively rapidly when you stop smoking, which could lower your risk of severe complications.

It’s important to remember that stopping smoking has many health benefits, even beyond a link with coronavirus. After you stop smoking, the chances of getting other lung infections, heart disease and cancer will also reduce.

How can I protect others if I'm still smoking?

If you smoke, the best thing you can do to protect others is to take your smoke outside. You should take at least seven steps from your home to prevent smoke from drifting back into the house and stay away from other people’s open windows, doorways and balconies as much as you can.

Please be mindful of smoking around others if you are in public areas such as parks or in queues outside shops or supermarkets. Although these may be open spaces, other people may be unable to move away from the smoke.

Fires caused by cigarettes can start very easily in homes. Please follow safety advice given by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and make sure cigarettes are fully out before disposing of them.

Is it still safe to use nicotine replacement or an e-cig/vape?

There is no evidence that COVID-19 has an impact on the safety or effectiveness of nicotine replacement.

If you are already using, or want to start using, nicotine replacement to help you stop smoking then it is safe to do so, as long as you don’t share any devices that enter the mouth (such as e-cigs/vapes) with other people as this could increase the risk of spreading the virus.

Using nicotine replacement is a very popular and effective way of reducing cravings and managing withdrawal symptoms. When combined with expert support from stop smoking advisors, you are much more likely to quit smoking.

Where can I get nicotine replacement or vape supplies right now?

Nicotine replacement is available in many supermarkets, pharmacies, newsagents and corner shops which are still open for essential shopping. Whilst vape shops are temporarily closed, many are still operating online. We’d recommend using a retailer that’s a member of the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA).

Stop smoking services can also help you get nicotine replacement.

I want to quit smoking but I'm too anxious and stressed

Quitting smoking might be the last thing on your mind right now, especially if you’re feeling worried, anxious or bored. You might even be wanting to smoke more than usual if you’re out of your normal routine. But quitting smoking is proven to help boost your mood by relieving stress, anxiety and depression – and there’s lots of support available to help you.

For help with your mental wellbeing while staying at home visit Every Mind Matters.

What will happen when I first stop smoking?

When you first stop smoking, you may have a few side effects. You might feel restless, irritable or low. You might eat more, feel tired, or struggle sleeping. That’s perfectly normal and all signs of withdrawal that will usually go away after two to four weeks.

Less common symptoms include a cough and sore throat, which are also usually temporary. These withdrawal symptoms may be confused with the symptoms of COVID-19. It’s important to note that a fever isn’t a symptom of nicotine withdrawal.

If you are think you have coronavirus please follow the advice from the government and the NHS.

Where can I get the best support to stop smoking right now?

The best thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking and the best way to stop smoking is with support. You can still get help to stop smoking without having to leave your house. Many stop smoking services across Greater Manchester are now offering more support online and over the phone and many can even help you get nicotine replacement.

Contact your local stop smoking service or call the NHS Stop Smoking helpline free on 0300 123 1044. Lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am to 4pm. Stop smoking services are an inclusive and safe space for all, including the LGBTIQA+ community. If you’re pregnant, specialist support is available from your midwife to help you quit during pregnancy.