Covid-19: Why UAE doctors are urging people to quit smoking now

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Dubai - There has been an uptick in the number of tobacco users, with an all time high of 1.1 billion smokers across the world.

By Saman Haziq

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Published: Mon 31 May 2021, 7:49 PM

Last updated: Mon 31 May 2021, 7:51 PM

With one of our most sensitive organs – lungs – seriously under threat by the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals are urging smokers to consider this as the best time to give up smoking as tobacco consumption can aggravate the infection.

As the world marks World No Tobacco Day on May 31 annually, experts advise smokers to completely quit all types of tobacco consumption such as e-cigarettes, cigarettes or sheesha, midwak and other related products to save our lungs from any serious damage and in order to increase our oxygen levels and immunity to fight diseases such as Covid-19 and other heart ailments.

Pointing out at a recent study, Iyaad Hasan, tobacco cessation specialist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Smoking Cessation Programme, said there has been an uptick in the number of tobacco users, with an all time high of 1.1 billion smokers across the world. “ Smoking irritates your lungs and weakens your immune system, which can in turn increase your chances of getting any viral infection such a Covid-19. Research and data has shown that smoking makes it harder for the body to fight diseases and can increase one’s chance of becoming an easy prey of Covid-19 with severe complications. Even if one has taken the vaccine, I would advise all to continue their efforts to quit smoking and have a better overall health, improve quality of life.”

When asked if switching to options like vaping or e-cigarettes or sheesha is better than smoking a normal cigarette, Hasan said: “Your ultimate goal should be to quit smoking and not just change products. This could be a good start but don’t get convinced by the marketing gimmicks of products that sell in the name of being less harmful. We are seeing a number of younger individuals complaining to us of shortness of breath, severe spasm or pneumonia and other respiratory issues after using vaping products, e-cigarettes or midwak as these can also cause lung injury in otherwise healthy individuals. These products may look less harmful but are much more harmful than what people think. While data is still limited but research says that one puff of midwak is equivalent of smoking 3-5 cigarettes, and half an hour of smoking sheesha is equivalent to smoking 50-100 cigarettes. The carbon monoxide coming out of sheesha is enormous which is why at times it can make people feel dizzy.”

Stating that tobacco is the second major factor for early deaths across the world, Dr. H. S. Wilkhoo , health and lifestyle coach at RAK Hospital, said explained what makes it deadly. “The fatal component present in tobacco is nicotine. Besides that, the cigarette contains a heady cocktail of chemicals that deliver a range of emotions. The alcohol in the cigarette or pipe sedates the brain, glycol in it acts as a tranquilizer, nitric oxide is an anesthetic and pain reliever, and so on. In current scenario of Covid-19 pamdemic that affects one’s lungs, carbon monoxide present in smoking, cannibalizes oxygen and the acids it contains and destroys lung tissue. Tobacco also contains benzene and tar, both of which cause cancer, and finally also contains traces of deadly chemical cyanide.”

Sharing his insights based on his clinical practice, Dr. Amal A Louis, interventional cardiologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital, said smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases. “Smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with Covid-19, compared to non-smokers. Given that the Covid-19 virus affects the respiratory tract, the hand-to-mouth action of conventional smoking and use of e-cigarettes may increase the risk of infection.”

He added that tobacco is also a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes which put people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by Covid-19. Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death.

Talking about how smoking affects one’s heart, Dr Louis said: “ Smoking is one of the top reasons why people develop heart diseases. It causes damage to the lining of the heart arteries, making them more sticky so cholesterol and blood cells stick to it and cause blockage; clot formations; increases heart rate and blood pressure and reduces one’s good cholesterol levels that ultimately cause heart attack and even death.

Quit and feel the difference instantly

Hasan said evidence-based practice shows that counselling along with medication, doubles the chances of an individual quitting smoking. “I help smokers enrolled in our cessation programme by asking them to follow this term I have coined called ‘SMART quit’, where the latter ‘S’ stands strategy, which means one should have medication and a treatment programme (it could also be an app, a book or a social group that could encourage you to quit); m – motivation (how motivated are you to quit); a – awareness of how much you smoke and how much damage it can cause; letter ‘r’ stands for reasoning – we must try to find personal reasons that can help you quit; the latter ‘t’ stands for time – where we tell smokers to pick a quit date; try to reduce smoking.”

He added: “Another research shows that if individuals don’t smoke till the age of 25, the likelihood of them not smoking is very high. So if we can educate and create awareness in the younger population about the ills of smoking e-cigarettes, midwak or cigarettes, we can change the net few generations.”

Adding to this Dr Amal added that smokers will be able to see remarkable results in their health once they quit smoking. “After you quit smoking, it will rapidly reverse the bad effects caused by it. Within hours, oxygen levels in your body goes up, the very next day you will feel you can exercise better. In a few days you will feel you can breathe better; risk of heart disease will be almost halved in a year and in five years the risk can come to zero. Therefore, it is never too late to stop smoking even if you have been a smoker for many years and reverse the bad effects quickly.

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