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How smoking could impact health complications with COVID-19 illness

Quitting smoking and vaping can reduce the severity of illness caused by COVID-19.

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Written by: Tehreem Khan
Media contact: Alicia Rohan

covid.smoking.2Smoking cigarettes poses an increased risk of respiratory infections and weakens the immune system, experts say. Recent studies have demonstrated that the impact of smoking on one’s health intensifies if COVID-19 is contracted. The CDC reports that smoking is one of the risk factors of severe COVID illness. Physicians and researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are concerned that the same health risk is true for people who use e‑cigarettes and vape since vaping causes lung irritation and injury.   

“Smokers are at a higher risk for greater complications such as death, admission to intensive care and mechanical ventilation when they contract COVID-19,” said tobacco control expert Susan Walley, M.D., professor in the UAB Department of Pediatrics. “When someone is smoking or vaping, they can’t wear a mask, so there is concern that not only are they exposing you to secondhand smoke but also are increasing the risk for spreading or contracting COVID-19.”

Walley warns that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke because exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer, asthma, pneumonia and other lung injuries, beyond COVID. Because there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, it is also important to eliminate any smoke or vape exposure. The Birmingham Health District is an area established to promote health and wellness, including a smoke-free environment.

In addition, researchers have learned that the pediatric population can still be infected and spread COVID-19. According to Walley, teens and young adults who vape are five times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than non-users.

“Many of the risk factors for severe COVID-19, like older age, are not things you can control; but the good news is, if you smoke or vape, you can quit,” said Walley, who also treats patients at Children’s of Alabama, the state’s only freestanding pediatric medical facility. “It isn’t easy, but there are tools that can help. The best way to stay safe and healthy is to quit smoking and vaping.” 

UAB is part of the Birmingham Health District, which includes a smoke-free environment to promote health and wellness of patients, employees, students and visitors in the area. Learn more here.

Tobacco users can utilize these free resources to help quit smoking: