Since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, our teams have been asked a number of questions about COVID-19 and smoking.
Studies show people who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections—such as lung and chest infections. However, to date, there is currently not enough evidence to prove that people who smoke are at higher risk of being infected with COVID-19. Evidence has shown though that people with poor lung function (as a result of smoking or anything else) may be at higher risk of complications if they do become infected with the virus.
If you have quit smoking and want to know how COVID-19 could affect you, it’s currently not clear how long a person needs to have stop smoking to reduce their risk of these complications.
During these times, it’s important to remember stopping smoking has many benefits beyond any link with COVID-19, and it’s always a good time to quit.
Below, we answer the most commonly asked questions on this topic to help you make informed decisions, keep up-to-date, and quit.
Q. Are people who smoke at more risk of getting COVID-19?
A. While there currently isn’t enough evidence to be certain that people who smoke are more likely to be infected by COVID-19, we do know that they are at a higher risk of getting lung and chest infections in general. What does this mean? It means that people who smoke are more likely than not to have a higher risk of getting COVID-19 compared to people who don’t smoke.
Q. Are people who smoke more likely to have severe complications if they do become infected with COVID-19?
A. There is growing evidence to suggest that people who smoke are likely to be more severely impacted by COVID-19 if they do become infected. This is because smoking damages the lungs so that they don’t work as well. For example, lungs naturally produce mucus, but people who smoke have more and thicker mucus that is hard to clean out of the lungs. This mucus clogs the lungs and is prone to becoming infected. Smoking also affects the immune system, making it harder to fight infection.
Q. What if I previously smoked? Am I still at risk when it comes to COVID-19?
A. It’s not currently known if former smokers have a higher risk of becoming infected compared to people who have never smoked. Studies show that people who smoke are at increased risk of lung infections in general, but the lungs do heal relatively rapidly when people stop smoking. It’s not yet known how long is long enough to reduce the risk to match someone who has never smoked.
If you previously smoked and have now quit, it’s likely you’ll have a lower risk of severe complications (if you were to be infected) than you would have if you were still smoking.
Q. How long do people have to have stopped smoking to reduce their risk of infection with COVID-19 or complications from COVID-19?
A. This is not currently known for COVID-19 specifically, but it’s well-established that stopping smoking improves lung function within a few months. Rates of lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia also decrease.
Q. Where can I get the best support to stop smoking?
A. The best thing you can do for your health at any time is to stop smoking. And the best way to stop smoking is to use a tailored quit counselling service such as Quitline 13 78 48, plus nicotine replacement therapy, for instance nicotine patches and gum. Quitline counsellors are available Mon – Friday 8.30 am – 8.00 pm Monday to Friday and 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm Saturday and provide personalised, non-judgemental and empathetic support to help you quit, including information on the types of nicotine replacement therapy available.
Quitline is an inclusive and culturally safe space for all. There is also an Aboriginal Quitline for people who smoke identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. To access Aboriginal Quitline, call 13 78 48 and ask to speak with one of our friendly and qualified Aboriginal Quitline counsellors. We also have an interpreter service available if you speak a language other than English.
Explore our website at www.quitlinesa.org.au for more info, tips and tools to help you wherever you are along your quitting journey.