New Delhi: Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth, says the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOH&FW). In its latest document titled ‘COVID-19 Pandemic and Tobacco Use in India’, the MOH&FW has specified that the use of tobacco is a major risk factor for the four main non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) – cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes. If people with these conditions contract COVID-19, they are at a higher risk for developing severe illness.
A review of studies by public health experts convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on April 29 also found that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to non-smokers.
The Correlation Between Smoking And COVID-19
The use of tobacco is a risk factor for many respiratory infections and increases the severity of respiratory diseases. Tobacco smoke including second-hand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals out of which more than 69 are cancer causing. The chemicals in tobacco smoke suppress the activity of different types of immune cells that are involved in general and targeted immune responses, reads the official document.
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function, thereby reducing the immunity and making it harder for the body to fight off various diseases including COVID-19.
Further smoking products such as water pipes or hookah often involve the sharing of mouth-pieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of COVID-19 in communal and social settings, reads the document issued by MOHF&W.
Since tobacco is a leading cause behind non-communicable diseases, it indirectly puts tobacco users and smokers at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19.
Not only smoking, chewing tobacco products (Khaini, Gutkha, Paan, Zarda) and spitting in public places also increases the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2. There are two reasons behind this – firstly, using smokeless tobacco often involves some hand to mouth contact which means if hands are contaminated, the virus can enter the mouth. Secondly, the virus can be spread when the user spits out the excess saliva produced during the chewing process.
Elaborating on smoking and consumption of smokeless tobacco, Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical, said,
The consumption of chewable tobacco products like gutkha, paan, khaini, and other tobacco products leads to a greater urge to spit. When someone spits in public places and roads, it causes contagious diseases and infections to spread in the vicinity. Also, when we talk about smoking, it is not just smoking cigarettes or bidis, but all forms of smoking such as hookah, e-cigarettes. These products directly affect the upper airways and are likely to increase the chances as well as the severity of pulmonary infections. Therefore, smoking and tobacco consumption are not only exposing people to cancer but, also to other deadly communicable diseases and COVID-19. Hence, it is the need of the hour to completely avoid any form of smoking and tobacco consumption.
Talking about what needs to be done to eradicate the practice of spitting in public places and stop people from smoking and consuming tobacco, Basanta Kumar Kar, Recipient of Global Nutrition Leadership Award, emphasised on initiating a people’s movement. He said,
Improving lung functions, immunity and reduction of co-infection and co-morbidity is the need in the fight against COVID-19. We need to accelerate the social behaviour change communication efforts. ‘Stop public Spiting’ and ‘Quitting Tobacco’ must be promoted together as a healthy behaviour. We need to leverage all the platforms and human capital potential and make ‘stop public spitting’ and ‘quitting tobacco’ a Jan Andolan (people’s movement).
In concurrence with the WHO statement on tobacco use and COVID-19 issued earlier in May, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare warns against the use of any tobacco products.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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