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Smokers and vapers may be at greater risk for coronavirus

  • KARSTEN MORAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES / 2015
                                An ashtray near Grand Central Terminal in New York. Experts say if you have ever considered quitting, right now would be a good time to make a determined effort to do so.

    KARSTEN MORAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES / 2015

    An ashtray near Grand Central Terminal in New York. Experts say if you have ever considered quitting, right now would be a good time to make a determined effort to do so.

Anxious times — like a pandemic — can lead to unhealthy but self-soothing habits. But some stress-reducing behaviors are alarming to medical experts right now — namely vaping and smoking of tobacco or marijuana.

Because the coronavirus attacks the lungs, this is exactly the moment, they say, when people should be tapering — or better yet, stopping — their use of such products, not escalating them.

“Quitting during this pandemic could not only save your life, but by preventing the need for your treatment in a hospital, you might also save someone else’s life,” said Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, director of pediatric research at the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

On Thursday, Winickoff joined the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, to issue an advisory alerting the public and particularly young people that smoking and vaping can also exacerbate the risks of spreading COVID-19.

“You bring this device or cigarette to your mouth to inhale and you do so repeatedly,” explained Winickoff, who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School. “You touch the cartridge. You put it next to your face. You are spreading whatever is in your hand into your body. At the same time, many of my patients who smoke or vape have increased coughing or expectorating. And that’s a recipe for increased spread.”

Studies already amply show that cigarette smoking weakens the immune system and compromises lung function. Research into the health effects of vaping is limited because the devices are relatively new, but studies suggest that e-cigarettes may cause inflammation in the airways and lungs.

Smokers and vapers may be more susceptible to coronavirus infection, the Massachusetts advisory emphasizes, and once infected, such patients might also have a tougher time resisting an attack of COVID-19.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Chinese coronavirus patients who smoked were more than twice as likely as those who didn’t to have severe infections from COVID-19.

Winickoff said that prudence about marijuana products was also advisable.

“Inhaling combusted or vaped cannabis products can damage lung cells, may increase viral replication, and does affect the ability to fight off infection,” he said. “Clean air is what the lungs should be inhaling, especially during a global pandemic.”

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