Studies show that far from protecting you from COVID-19, nicotine and smoking dramatically increase your risk.

For most people alive today, COVID-19 was the first pandemic they’ve lived through. As such, reliable information was scant in the beginning, and precautions, as well as remedies, seemed to change regularly.

As time progressed, verifiable information was released, and people were able to make informed decisions regarding COVID-19 and best practices for their lives.

Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, you may still have questions about how COVID-19 can affect your body and what preventive measures can protect you from developing it or reducing its impact.

In particular, some people believe that tobacco use can act as a preventive treatment against developing severe COVID-19. Let’s look at what science says about these claims.

The short answer is no, tobacco use won’t lower your risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection (the virus that causes COVID-19) or shorten an infection if you’re symptomatic.

In 2020, the WHO released a formal statement on tobacco use and COVID-19, stating that “smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases.”

They urged medical communities and scientific organizations to use extreme caution when discussing unfounded theories that tobacco use or nicotine in particular could prevent or reduce the severity of COVID-19.

It’s important to take a step back and first understand what COVID-19 is and why it has a negative relationship with tobacco use. COVID-19 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, a highly contagious virus that most frequently causes respiratory symptoms but can also affect other parts of your body.

The respiratory symptoms SARS-CoV-2 creates are often compared with those created by a cold or flu — but can be more severe.

People with compromised respiratory systems due to conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even smoking-related lung irritation are considered most vulnerable or likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms if infected.

Researchers from around the world have looked into a wide range of claims for products — including medicinal, homeopathic, and many unfounded options — to figure out if they offer any relief for active infections or can be used as a prophylactic, or preventive treatment.

A 2021 study conducted in China looked at the relationship between smoking and the potential for developing COVID-19 along with survival rates. Researchers monitored 622 people with active COVID-19 enrolled in the study, filtering the groups into smokers versus nonsmokers.

People in the smoking group were more likely to experience complications such as cerebrovascular disease, heightened white blood cell counts, and elevated hemoglobin and creatinine levels. Additionally, smokers had worse survival outcomes than nonsmokers.

While some studies do suggest that smokers have a lower incidence of COVID-19, some of these have been debunked for a few reasons. First, studies performed in the early days of COVID-19 were often rushed to publication, not allowing for the traditional review and vetting process typically required before results were printed.

Some experts also believe that smoking incidence is often under-reported by people who want to avoid being lectured for having a known unhealthy habit.

Other research suggests that smoking can actually increase your chances of contracting SARS-CoV-2. A recent study found that smoking often increased the lung gene expression of ACE2, the specific receptor for SARS-CoV-2. In other words, smoking made it easier for SARS-CoV-2 to infect tobacco users.

Overall, few reputable health officials formally support tobacco or nicotine use as a preventive aid to avoid contracting SARS-CoV-2 or experiencing more severe symptoms. This is especially true given the long-term and proven effects tobacco use can have on a person’s overall health.

Tobacco use and its influence on your health

Tobacco use has long been linked to poor health outcomes and a higher risk of developing chronic conditions. While respiratory concerns or cancer development are usually the first health scares that come to mind, regularly consuming tobacco products can also increase your chances of developing hypertension, diabetes, and a host of other health concerns.

Having a chronic health condition such as diabetes or hypertension also increases your risk of experiencing more severe symptoms if you develop COVID-19.

How to keep on top of the latest COVID research

While the world may be through the worst of COVID-19, the virus isn’t going away. The statement by the WHO that we’re no longer in the middle of a public health emergency isn’t the same as saying COVID-19 is gone for good.

Instead, that simply means that enough people have been infected or received immunity through vaccinations to reduce the risk of greater community spread.

As a result, we’re all still learning more about this virus. The best way to stay informed about COVID-19 research, best practices, and proven treatment or preventive measures is to look to reliable sources for information.

This includes organizations such as the WHO, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and reputable medical journals that require a highly structured vetting process before medical recommendations are published. You can also ask a doctor if you have any specific concerns.

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If you currently have COVID-19, you should try to avoid smoking. During the worst surges of the pandemic, health departments urged smokers to take time during quarantining or staying safe at home as an opportunity to quit smoking.

Experts know that COVID-19 most significantly impacts your respiratory system and can often damage critical tissue in your lungs to the point that cells and tissue die. Because tobacco products release chemicals that already irritate your lungs, smoking during an infection can make a bad situation even worse. Note that this advice also includes vaping or cannabis use.

Check out this article if you want to learn more about quitting smoking.

Are vaccines really safe?

Many consumers were concerned that the COVID-19 vaccines were rushed to market. But these vaccines were developed according to strict protocols by oversight and regulatory organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the NIH, and the CDC.

Additionally, researchers and developers relied on technology and science that had been in existence for decades.

Learn more about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines here.

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No one wants to develop COVID-19, even if it’s a mild case. But some underlying conditions, as well as lifestyle habits such as smoking, can make your chances of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 or experiencing severe symptoms more likely.

Smoking is harmful for your health and can lead to unwanted side effects throughout your body. If you needed another reason to consider quitting smoking, avoiding a severe case of COVID-19 could be at the top of the list.