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Smoking is a risk factor for acute respiratory infections like flu. People who smoke are more likely to get flu and are more likely to have a worse infection than people who don’t smoke.
Even though COVID-19 (coronavirus) is a new virus, it’s becoming clear that smoking is a risk factor for coronavirus infection too. And just like flu, a coronavirus infection may be more severe in people who smoke.
If you smoke, you don’t need to self-isolate unless you have symptoms. But now would also be a good time to quit smoking.
Quitting smoking helps build your natural resistance to all types of infections including COVID-19. When you stop, the natural hairs in your airways (cilia) begin to work again. Within 1 to 2 days the oxygen levels in your body will improve. Your blood pressure and pulse reduces, which in turn decreases the overall stress on your body. All these things are good defences against COVID-19.
How smoking increases your risk
Weakened heart and lungs
Smoking affects the function of your heart and lungs making it harder to respond to an acute infection, like flu or coronavirus. Cigarette smoke dampens the natural barriers to infection in the lungs and may make it easier for COVID-19 to attach itself to your lung surface and infect lung tissue.
Touching your face
COVID-19 is spread in sneeze or cough droplets. To infect you, it has to get from an infected person's nose or mouth into your eyes, nose or mouth. This can be direct or indirect (on hands, objects, surfaces).
Everyone is being advised to stop touching their face. But if you smoke, you are more likely to touch your face, especially your mouth. This increases your risk of becoming infected.
Being physically close to others
Social distancing is important to help slow the spread of COVID-19. It does this by minimising contact between potentially infected individuals and healthy individuals.
You should keep a space of 2 metres (6.5 feet) between you and other people.
But people are more likely to be physically close while they smoke. By stopping smoking, you reduce this risk that you may become infected.
Good hygiene and proper hand washing are especially important right now. The advice from public health doctors is that we should not share objects that touch our mouths, for example, bottles or cups. This also applies to cigarettes which are often shared between people.
Smoking indoors puts those closest to you at risk because exposure to secondhand smoke affects the body’s natural resistance to infections such as COVID-19. Children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke because they breathe more rapidly and their lungs, airways and immune system are still developing.
If you have already signed up for support from the Quit team
Congratulations on quitting, and well done. Some of our stop smoking advisors are now working on the HSE’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. But all of our online supports are still available to you: