Uninterrupted focus on Covid-19 pandemic has sidelined another pandemic, that of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), which includes heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and more, say experts.
While the country has been hit with a huge second coronavirus wave, and a likely third wave, it also must also deal with the problem of tobacco addiction, which experts say has worsened during the pandemic and is posing a major threat to public health.
Significant research and many scientific pieces of evidence have indicated that smoking and chewing tobacco can substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for Covid-19 patients as compared to non-smokers.
“COVID-19 is an infectious disease that mainly attacks the lungs and tobacco use continues to be one of the biggest public health threats especially during this time of COVID-19 pandemic. Tobacco adversely affects the immune system and impairs lung function, making users more vulnerable to developing respiratory infections like colds, influenza, tuberculosis, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” Dr Vikas said. Dr Vikas Maurya, Director, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh explains
Director-General of the United Nations body, World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement on Saturday said that smoking tobacco can lead up to a 50 per cent higher risk of developing severe disease and death from Covid-19.
Every year the WHO, to spread public awareness on the dangers of using tobacco observes the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on May 31.
This year, the global body is running a ‘Commit to Quit’ tobacco campaign and has urged all countries to play their part by joining and creating tobacco-free environments that give people the information, support, and tools they need to quit and quit for good.
Tobacco use, it says currently leads to over 8 million deaths each year worldwide, including 1.2 million which are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
According to the WHO, “When the news came out that smokers were more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19 compared to non-smokers, it triggered millions of smokers to want to quit tobacco.”
Experts have stressed on an immediate need to sensitize the public, in particular the youth, about why they should not engage in tobacco use.
According to Dr R. Ranga Rao, Chairman- Paras Cancer Centre, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram: “These complications may include being admitted to requiring mechanical ventilation, intensive care and suffering other severe health consequences. The damaged respiratory system makes it more likely for smokers to contract diseases like respiratory infections, including colds, influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis.”
Dr Rao added that the current pandemic may be the best time to break the cycle of nicotine addiction. “If you can stop smoking for a fortnight you can stop for life!”, he said.
Smoking can also impact fertility levels. Dr Hrishikesh Pai, Gynaecologist and Infertility Specialist, Lilavati Hospital Mumbai and Fortis Hospitals Delhi Gurugram Mohali Chandigarh, said “Smoking is associated with poor quality of egg and sperm, which in turn causes infertility. It also leads to repeated IVF failures and repeated miscarriages. It has been found that men who smoke have more inflammation in the semen, which can weaken the sperm and cause infertility. The high levels of carcinogens, mutagenic substances, and heavy metals like lead and cadmium in cigarettes cause damage to the sperm.”
Dr Pai also pointed out that, in women, smoking has been identified as the cause behind failure to conceive, damage to the eggs and ovaries. “Active smoking can also result in earlier menopause due to a possible decrease in ovarian reserve leading to repeated IVF failures and miscarriages,” explained Dr Hrishikesh Pai.
Smoking severely impairs lung function, making it hard for the body to fight off various diseases due to severely reduced immunity.
Sharing an interesting fact about quitting smoking, Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder and Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals said: “Moreover, smoking, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and pan masala damage the upper airways and a decrease in pulmonary immune function leading to increased risk and severity of pulmonary infections. Within 12 hours of quitting tobacco smoking, you will be surprised to know that the carbon monoxide level in the bloodstream drops to normal.
“And within 2-12 weeks, lung function increases and blood circulation improves. After 1-9 months, the person would notice a decrease in coughing and shortness of breath. So, it’s never too late, now is the time to take some action,” he added.
“The act of smoking puts the person at direct risk of contracting the infection: The possibility of hand-to-mouth viral transmission for a smoker is very high when his fingers and, possibly, contaminated cigarettes come in contact with lips. In addition to that, smoking products such as water pipes or hookah often have shared hoses and mouth-pieces that put a smoker at high risk of transmission of Covid-19 infection,” Dr Piyush Goel, Senior Consultant- Pulmonary and Critical Care, Columbia Asia Hospital, Palam Vihar, Gurugram said.
These provide enough evidence that tobacco consumers are more likely to develop severe symptoms of Covid-19.
So, while it might seem uneasy and hard to quit the addiction, this World No Tobacco Day, let’s pledge to finally say goodbye to tobacco.