Smokers urged to quit to reduce risk of coronavirus complications

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Smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should be urged to stop smoking immediately or risk complications if they contract Covid-19, new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has advised.

The guidance, which aims to maximise the safety of patients with COPD during the pandemic and protect the staff treating them from infection, says health professionals should strongly encourage people with COPD who are still smoking to stop, so as to reduce the risk of poor outcomes from Covid‑19 and their risk of acute problems.

This could involve telephone, video or email consultation support and ensuring that evidence-based interventions are available, NICE advises.

Dr Sanjay Agrawal, a consultant in respiratory and intensive care medicine at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said health professionals should be encouraging all smokers to quit, regardless of whether they have COPD or not, to improve outcomes should they get the coronavirus.

“Early evidence from China shows that smokers who contract Covid-19 are more likely to develop severe disease, to end up in intensive care and to die. Smokers should try to quit without delay,” he said.

“The benefits from quitting are immediate, including increased oxygen supply to the lungs, reduced risk of respiratory infections, and improvements in blood pressure. Longer-term benefits include significant reductions in the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and COPD.”

The guidance was welcomed by smoking cessation body ASH. Chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “This is a worrying time for all of us and people want to know how best to protect themselves and those around them. For smokers, quitting will immediately improve their health, as well as those around them and reduce the risk that if they contract coronavirus they will get life threatening symptoms.”

It is not just smoking that individuals are being urged to quit during the pandemic. The reduction in alcohol consumption seen over the past decade is likely to stall or reverse during the lockdown, according to Dr Sarah Wadd, director of the substance misuse and ageing research team at the University of Bedfordshire.

She said: “Only time will tell if the coronavirus will reverse the progress made, but alcohol consumption is very likely to rise during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“A telling sign could be the recent empty supermarket shelves in the drinks section which could be an indication that many people see alcohol as an essential item that they wouldn’t want to run out of. And the government recognised this when off-licences were added to list of ‘essential’ retailers that could stay open.

She said a recent University of Bedfordshire and Drink Wise Age Well survey among the over-50s showed that 44% drank alcohol to relax or take their mind off problems and 3% drank when they were lonely, bored or had nothing else to do.

“This suggests drinking may increase during the outbreak as people have to stay at home, particularly among those already drinking at higher risk levels,” she said.

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