New research from a leading Scottish anti-smoking charity has concluded that it is highly likely that smoking contributes to the severity of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, amid evidence that thousands up and down the country have quit due to concerns over how smoking may impact on the illness.
ASH Scotland, a national organisation which strives to take action to reduce the harm caused by tobacco, has published a briefing paper which highlights smoking’s association with existing co-morbidities and the direct effect of smoking on infection as legitimate factors in why smokers are at a greater risk during the coronavirus pandemic.
The findings point to a previous MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)-related coronavirus in which the mortality rate amongst smokers was higher than that of the non-smoking population.
The paper also states that smokers are potentially at increased risk of being infected with coronavirus due to the repetitive hand-to-mouth action which can provide a route of entry for the virus.
It is already well known that smoking can cause or worsen respiratory diseases and has a negative impact on the immune system. What is less clear at this stage is specifically how stopping smoking may change the risk associated with COVID-19.
However, it has been established through extensive research that the overall health benefits of stopping smoking can be seen very quickly. Indeed, within 12 hours of stopping smoking, the carbon monoxide levels in a person’s blood returns to normal and after just 2-3 weeks, lung function and circulation improve.
A recent survey by YouGov and Action on Smoking and Health indicated that more than 300,000 people in the UK may have quit smoking during the coronavirus crisis. It is believed that a further 550,000 have tried to quit, while 2.4million have cut down their smoking.
Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is an active campaigner for a smoke-free Lanarkshire, with the programme involved in promoting and supporting implementation of Lanarkshire Tobacco Control Strategy 2018-23.
The Tobacco Control Strategy looks to the future, with a focus on tackling inequalities and putting children’s health firmly at its centre. The vision is to create a society which is smoke-free and where adults are positive anti-tobacco role models, whether they smoke or not. Mary McNeil, Development Manager at Cornerstone House Centre, said:
“It is imperative that smokers in Cumbernauld take particular health precautions and preventative measures in respect of their increased risk in relation to coronavirus, as highlighted by ASH Scotland’s informative research.
“It should be of concern to every smoker that evidence is growing that smoking is associated with worse outcomes amongst those admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
“Equally, it is fantastic to hear of so many people who have stopped or cut down smoking as a result of the pandemic, including hundreds of people in the Cumbernauld area.
“These individuals have succeeded in showing tremendous self-discipline and determination to make a difference to the health of both themselves and their families at this challenging time.
“Quitting smoking rapidly reduces a person’s risk of health problems such as heart attacks, lung disease and stroke. Those are bad whenever they happen, so preventing them is an end in itself and is especially important at a time like now when everyone is keen to stay out of hospital.”
Despite the present lockdown situation, there is still plenty of help available to Cumbernauld citizens looking to stop smoking.
Quit Your Way Scotland, a free NHS national helpline for anyone trying to stop smoking, has now resumed and is operational every Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm. The service, which can be accessed by telephoning 0800 84 84 84 or via NHS inform, is currently focussing on inbound telephone calls, webchat and quit pack requests.
The helpdesk number can be accessed by individuals and partner agencies seeking assistance with any queries in regards to stopping smoking. The service takes referrals, carries out pre-assessments of individuals as required, provides behavioural support to help clients stop smoking and undertakes follow-up activity.
THE IMPACT OF SMOKING ON YOUR HEALTH AND HELP WITH QUITTING
Smoking in the UK
In a study funded by Cancer Research UK, it was found that fewer cigarettes have been smoked each year in the UK for the past nine years. The decline can be linked to more public awareness of the health risks associated with smoking, thanks to new laws on how tobacco products can be sold and advertised.
However, despite progress made smoking is still a significant factor in society, with 28% of men and 25% of women in Scotland being smokers. Smoking remains one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK, with more than 13,000 people in Scotland dying each year from tobacco use.
Smoking levels remains higher than desired across the Lanarkshire area, with instances of coronary heart disease and COPD a particular problem in the Cumbernauld area.
The Health Risks of Smoking
The significant health risks of smoking include increased risk many forms of cancer, most notably lung cancer of which smoking is the cause in 70% of cases. Those who smoke are also at a much higher risk of developing cancer in their mouth, throat, bladder and liver, among other parts of the body.
Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation and also increases your risk of developing conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, dementia, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels) and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain).
Importantly, smoking doesn’t just affect the health of the smoker; it can also have the same negative effects on those breathing in the second-hand smoke. This is known as passive smoking, which is especially harmful for children as they have less well-developed airways, lungs and immune systems.
The Benefits of Stopping Smoking
If you smoke, quitting is the single most important step you can take to protect the health of your heart. Even if you’ve smoked for years, quitting will still reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases. It’s never too late to quit. You might notice benefits sooner than you think. For example, did you know that…
20 minutes after you quit smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal
After 2–3 days of stopping, your sense of smell and taste will improve
After 2–12 weeks of stopping, exercise becomes easier and your breathing will improve
After one year of quitting, your risk of having a heart attack is half that of a smoker.
Advice and Guidance for Those Who Want to Stop Smoking
Before you begin your attempt to stop smoking, ask yourself, why do you want to quit? Is it for your own health? Or is it to protect a loved one from second-hand smoke? Use your answer as your motivation throughout your journey.
Before you think about going ‘cold turkey’, discuss the best method of quitting cigarettes for you with your GP. They will be able to provide you with information on various support groups, apps and medication if necessary.
As you will already know if you’ve tried to stop smoking before, quitting an addiction is no easy feat. Make sure that you focus on your wellbeing by doing activities that help you unwind. Listen to your favourite music or podcast, socialise with your friends, or reward yourself with a spa treatment when you hit a milestone.
Many smokers lapse in their attempts at quitting when they hit a trigger, for example, drinking alcohol and eating out. Try and find an alternative to distract your mind, such as chewing gum or texting a friend instead.
The early stages of stopping smoking are most difficult. Research has shown that if you can stop smoking for 28 days, you are five times more likely to stay smoke-free for good.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated calls for minimum unit price (MUP) to be introduced on tobacco after scientists said that now is the time to tackle the largest preventable cause of chronic disease.
In this respect, ASH Scotland is supporting a new levy similar to that adopted in Scotland on alcohol products two years ago. It would see the price of cigarettes and tobacco rise with the aim of persuading more smokers to quit.