Memorial Health lung expert advises against smoking, vaping to prevent more severe COVID-19 impacts


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Medical experts warn that people who use cigarettes and e-cigarette products may face a greater threat from the impacts of COVID-19.

Dr. Jason McClune, an interventional pulmonary and critical care physician at Memorial Health, tells NOW that recent studies reveal an increased risk of adverse health effects among smokers and vape product users who contract the respiratory virus.

“Tobacco smoke and e-cigarettes have been known to be harmful to respiratory mucosa and the respiratory tree, so those people are already at risk because of their compromised lungs and immune system for pneumonia, influenza and other infections,” McClune said. “Undoubtedly, COVID-19 will also affect them more than non-smokers.”

McClune adds that it’s already well-known that smokers face higher risks for lung disease, cardiac disease and lung cancer.

“We know that smoking actually affects the cell receptors throughout the bronchial tree,” McClune said. 

“The COVID-19 infection is spread by droplet, so we know that anyone that’s compromised in the respiratory tract, or even smokers who are compromised with their immune system, are at higher risk for this infection,” he explained.

A University of California, San Francisco (USCF) study looked at current and former cigarette smokers diagnosed with COVID-19.

“[It showed] that smokers have almost double the risk of non-smokers in developing respiratory complications,” McClune said.

The study, published May 12 in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, examined 11,590 COVID-19 patients. Researchers found that as the disease progressed, people who smoked, as well as those who had kicked the habit, experienced a higher rate of acute or critical conditions — even death. 

Another more controversial recent study from French researchers suggested that smoking could actually lower one’s chances of catching COVID-19. 

“They observed that fewer patients that were smokers were infected with COVID, but this was an observational study only, so we have to be very careful in interpretation of this study,” McClune said, adding, “By no means are we suggesting that smoking would decrease your risk of COVID-19 infection.”

McClune offers the same advice to people who smoke as the rest of the community.

“We want everyone to maintain social distancing at least six feet, frequent handwashing and wearing a mask when out in public,” McClune said.

The medical community also encourages smokers to quit as soon as possible.

“That will decrease your risk not only of cardiac disease, lung disease and lung cancer but also decrease your risk of COVID-19 complications,” McClune said. 

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