The Use of Nicotine Containing Product in Times of COVID-19

By Marcela Carvajal

Early studies suggest that smokers who develop COVID-19 are 14 times more likely than nonsmokers to need intensive treatment. Source: Google/Hannah Norman/KHN.

We are living in a time when information in the media related to the prevention of tobacco use and other nicotine-containing products has been relegated to the background. With the increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases worldwide, substantially affecting our community in Nebraska, it is critical to report on the measures that have been taken to  prevent its spread from continuing. The main measure to prevent the spread of the disease has been social distancing of people, which can lead to economic, physical, and mental health issues. Thus, some symptoms and feelings associated with the current crisis, such as anxiety, stress, and depression can lead many people to use nicotine-containing products in an uncontrolled manner to free themselves from tension.  However, the use of these products rather than a temporary solution poses a bigger social problem, considering that it affects not only tobacco or e-cigarette users but also those in their inner social circle.

Thus, people who use nicotine-containing products, whether conventional cigarettes, electronic devices or the like, are detrimental to their health. Studies have found that the use of these products affects the immune system by decreasing its ability to respond to infections. In addition, many smokers or vapers may develop lung diseases, reducing their chances of fighting viral diseases that attack the respiratory system. This situation puts smokers at a higher risk for infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Furthermore, an additional risk of contracting the coronavirus has been observed among smokers or vapers due to the frequent contact of their fingers with their lips when smoking or vaping, increasing the risk of transmission of the virus from their hands to their mouths. In addition to the adverse health effects described, chewing tobacco is not a safe alternative since spitting increases the risk of spreading the virus and infecting other people.

On the other hand, the social isolation that is currently crucial in preventing the spread of COVID-19 leads us to be in more enclosed spaces where we are close to other people, including children and the elderly. That is when smokers or vapers spread the problem to people around them, exposing them to secondhand smoke or secondhand aerosol from electronic devices used to vape. Secondhand smoke or aerosol consists of that smoke or aerosol exhaled by the smoker or vaper and breathed by people who do not smoke but that eventually lead to health problems such as respiratory diseases for those that are exposed. Currently, researchers are studying the use of vapes and water pipes and their relationship to the risk of transmitting COVID-19, since the person who vapes exhales aerosol droplets that can carry the virus that causes COVID-19.

Although we are living in a time where quitting smoking can be considered a challenge, organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) believe that it is time to take action on this habit that is not only affecting the health of smokers but of those around them. If you have decided to quit smoking, call the Nebraska Tobacco Quitline (800) QUIT-NOW / (800) 784-8669, where professionals will help you confidentially. If you would like to receive more information on this topic, or want to make your building smoke-free you can contact the Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition (MOTAC) at info@motac.org, visit the website www.MOTAC.org, or contact Marcela Carvajal at b.carvajalsuarez@unmc.edu (402-559-3670) or Natalia Trinidad at natalia.trinidad@unmc.edu (402-552-6819).

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