Covid-19 is a disease of the respiratory system in human beings. Since lungs and respiratory tract in tobacco smokers are already compromised, the severity of Covid-19 infection in smokers, such as difficulty in breathing, is far higher than the non-smokers, said Dr AK Dewan, Director Surgical Oncology, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also stated that tobacco use may increase the risk of suffering from serious symptoms due to COVID-19 illness. Compared to non-smokers, having a history of smoking may substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for COVID-19 patients.
According to Dr LM Darlong, Head of Thoracic Oncosurgery at RGCIRC, tobacco is the single leading cause of cancer in India. About 40% of the cancers in males and 20% of the cancers in females are related to tobacco. These include Lung cancer, Head & Neck Cancer and Oral cancer which are directly related to tobacco consumption . In case of lung cancer, smoking is the leading risk factor and accounts for 80% of lung cancer incidence.
Smoking is also a key reason for co-morbidities in a person such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. It has been noticed that mortality rates of Covid-19 are higher among patients with co-morbidities which are directly related to smoking. So it is all the more important to quit smoking during these times of health crisis, stated Dr Dewan.
Besides being the leading risk factor for oral cancer, chewing tobacco could play its part in spread of Covid-19. The use of chewing tobacco leads to increased production of saliva and thus the urge to spit at public places. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has already warned that “Spitting in public places could enhance the spread of the COVID-19 virus”. As a result, spitting in public places has been banned by the Government, Dr Dewan added
As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS): India 2016-17, nearly 267 million, or 29% Indians aged 15 and above used tobacco in different forms. This makes the tobacco consumption in India as one of the highest in the world.
According to WHO, tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Over 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.