As per World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco use increases the risk of contracting severe Covid-19 symptoms. Even death. Against this backdrop, the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC) has launched an awareness drive to convince people to quit smoking.
“As the lungs and respiratory tract in tobacco users are already compromised, they experience much higher severity of the Covid-19 infection as compared to non-smokers,” says Dr AK Dewan, Director, Surgical Oncology, RGCIRC.
As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), India is one of the highest consumers of tobacco. In 2016-17, the country had nearly 267 million (29 per cent Indians), aged 15 and above, using tobacco in different forms.
Tobacco consumption and vaccination
While no studies have been conducted linking the impact of smoking with Covid vaccination, doctors advise against smoking cigarettes on the day of your vaccination as a precautionary measure.
“Smoking can depress the immune system, and reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. It is especially suggested to not smoke after taking the first jab as it lowers the antibody response to several vaccines. Still, if they must, smokers can use nicotine patches or gum,” advises Dr Gyan Bharti, Pulmonologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad.
“Recent research shows that tobacco and alcohol users have a comparatively lesser immune response built by the Covid vaccine due to their harmful effects on the Memory-T cells,” says Dr Charu Dutt Arora, Covid Care Expert, Housepital, Sarvoday a Healthcare.
Precautions for tobacco users
Tobacco users with pre-existing comorbidities are more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection.
A tobacco consumer should strictly follow Covid-19 protocols such as washing hands often with soap and water, each time for at least 20 seconds, and should absolutely avoid touching his eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
“For tobacco users, especially smokers, the risk of Covid-19 multiplies as there is a high possibility of transmission of virus from hand-to-mouth when the fingers and, possibly, contaminated cigarettes come in contact with lips. Smoking products like water pipes/hookah with shared hoses and mouth-pieces are risky,” says Dr Bharti.
Dr Arora says that tobacco consumption (nicotine or vape) should not be encouraged.
“It reduces the lung capacity and immunity, and leads to many diseases,” he says.
Start using chewing gums, meditate, and be mindful of substance abuse and sharing pictures of hookah pipes or smokes.
Exercises for tobacco users
Breathing exercises are extremely important for tobacco consumers, especially smokers.
“Practice deep breathing as it relaxes the mind and strengthens the lungs. The faster one breathes, the more oxygen is being taken from the brain and the more anxiety is felt. For a smoker, controlled breathing is a great way to calm down. Regular deep breathing techniques can help a person quit the habit,” says Dr Bharti.
Dr Arora: “Deep breathing exercises (such as 4-7-8 rule) and meditation help increase the lung capacity and remove excess mucus secretions from a smoker’s ciliary tract.”
Pulmonologist Dr Arunesh Kumar (HOD, Paras Chest Institute) also calls for regular walking and yoga.