Coronavirus sparks concern for smokers

Friday 12 June, 2020

More Victorians are seeking help to quit smoking through Quitline amid concerns that smoking may increase the risk of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19).

Thanks to the generosity of Cancer Council supporters, the Quitline is able to respond to all requests for support – nearly 300 messages, emails and calls to 13 78 48 each week.

Nearly every person calling the free and confidential service since the COVID-19 outbreak are telling Quitline counsellors that they are worried about the virus, and the line has seen a 5% increase in call volumes.

This increased concern and motivation to quit is understandable, as emerging evidence shows that people who smoke are more likely to be more susceptible to infection with COVID-19, and experience its symptoms.

The combination of a reduced immune system and the impacts of smoking or vaping on the lungs, including inflammation and poor lung function, means people who smoke are quite likely to be at a higher risk of illness.

Quit Director Dr Sarah White said that the new evidence meant it was particularly important for people who smoke to take on government advice about practicing physical distancing, washing hands thoroughly and avoiding face touching.

Quit Director Doctor Sarah White

Quit Director Doctor Sarah White.

“What is coming through from international studies is worrying and very consistent with what we already know, which is that people who smoke are more likely to get influenza and colds caused by viruses,” Dr Sarah White said.

“People who smoke need to be extra-cautious right now. Please don’t share cigarettes, waterpipes or e-cigarettes and be very aware that the hand-to-mouth action of smoking and vaping means you are frequently bringing your hands into close contact with your face.”

Leading respiratory researcher Professor Christine Jenkins at the University of New South Wales agrees. Although it is too early for definitive data about the relationship between COVID-19 and smoking, what we know about other diseases suggests a link is possible.

“We would expect smokers to be at greater risk of lung injury from a nasty respiratory virus and I don't have any reason to think COVID-19 is different,” Prof Jenkins said.

“We know that when you have lung inflammation present already, you are more likely to be prone to invasion and severe damage from other causes of lung inflammation.”

Get more information on smoking and COVID-19

The impact of smoking on your health

If nothing else, the COVID-19 outbreak serves as a timely reminder of the importance of looking after our general health and wellbeing, and minimising our risk of chronic diseases like cancer.

Smoking-related cancers accounted for about 13% of all cancer cases in 2010.

But the good news is, as soon as you quit, your body starts to repair. Over time, your risk of life-threatening health problems, including cancer, heart disease and stroke, drops dramatically. 

Brad on his dairy farm

Brad lives on a dairy farm with his two young girls in East Gippsland.

Brad smoked at least 20 cigarettes a day for many years until he realised that quitting could help him achieve a very specific goal.

He started noticing he was wheezing constantly, had aching muscles and didn’t have much energy, but his greatest motivation was to improve his fitness.

Brad was applying for the Australian show Ninja Warrior, where contestants take part in a gruelling obstacle course. He believes this goal is what helped him quit once and for all.

“Even a couple of days after not smoking, I already felt like I had accomplished something. My wheezing was going away and I felt happier,” said Brad.

“Anyone can do it, and it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever done.”

There has never been a more urgent time to quit smoking than now. Quit can help you increase your chances of stopping successfully.

COVID-19 presents a good opportunity for many smokers to quit without worrying about common triggers – such as social situations.

A new resource hub has been launched – offering information and advice to those thinking about quitting, ready to quit or who have recently quit and need further support.

Visit Quit’s new resource hub at today

Alternatively, give Quitline a call on 13 78 48 or SMS ‘call back’ to the same number to request a call-back. Quitline is free, easy and you’ll chat with a trained Quitline counsellor who will listen to you without judgement.