During a pandemic, picking up a cigarette or a vape pen may seem like a solution for stress during what feels like a repeat episode of the Twilight Zone, but smoking in the age of coronavirus brings about a new set of dangers.
“Everybody is at risk for COVID-19. Everybody, right? Whether you’re a smoker or a non-smoker. However, I feel if you are a smoker or you’re vaping, you’re just at a much higher risk," says Dr. Beth Gero, a certified tobacco treatment specialist.
And that's not just because their lungs are already damaged. Simply raising a cigarette or vape pen to your lips could transmit the virus, according to the World Health Organization. Smokers are also dealing with weakened immune systems.
“We know that the only safe thing you can put in your lungs is air and when you start putting in other contaminants from tobacco products, vape products, those things are doing damage to the lungs," says Chris Owens, director of the CNY Regional Center for Tobacco Health Systems at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse.
"If you do catch it, you’re setting yourself up for a more severe case of COVID-19. A much higher risk of being seriously ill," Dr. Gero says.
It’s a tough time to quit because it’s a stressful time in general. Many people are still spending way more time at home than they normally would, especially in these summer months.
“By being in a long period of time and in this environment people are stressed if they’re smokers. They may be smoking in their homes. Opening up their homes to second- and third-hand smoke to their family members," Dr. Gero says.
Those family members could also be more at risk for a severe COVID-19 case, even though they've never picked up a cigarette.
“When you inhale a cigarette, there are over 7,000 chemicals and 69 carcinogens in one cigarette. So when you inhale a cigarette you’re actually burning off some of the toxins going into your system. However, sidestream smoke, when you’re inhaling it and burning off, all of those chemicals and carcinogens are going out into the environment," Dr. Gero says.
The dangers of second-hand smoke are more well known, but third-hand is also dangerous.
“It lingers on their clothing, furniture, on the walls, curtains and then you let the children come out into the environment where the parents were smoking? They’re getting it two-fold," Dr. Gero says.
So, what’s the solution?
“Is it a good time to quit? Absolutely. Is it a harder time to quit? Absolutely, so it’s a double-edged sword," Dr. Gero says.
If you do choose to quit, there are many resources available to help: