We’re nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than anything else, we’re all ready to go back to the days when coronavirus, mask-wearing, and social-distancing weren’t part of our day-to-day lives. (I’m leaving out hand-washing because let’s be real, you need to keep doing that after the pandemic ends.)
One of the most exciting and frustrating parts of the pandemic is getting to watch science play out in real life. We think something is accurate, and then as time goes on, we test and retest our hypotheses and change our conclusions, and that’s how we learn. Nowhere was this more true than with masks. We were told early in the pandemic that masks wouldn’t save us, and now they’re one of the most popular accessories of 2020 and 2021.
Early in the pandemic, we were doing a ton of learning all at once. First, masks were bad; then, they became absolutely essential. First, we wiped down our groceries before bringing them inside, and then we learned that COVID was airborne and very rarely spread across surfaces.
About those smoking studies…
Early in the pandemic, a series of studies were published stating that smokers - who in all other cases have worse outcomes when dealing with infections in general and respiratory infections in particular - were appearing to be infected with COVID-19 less frequently than non-smokers. This claim, which appeared to defy everything we know about respiratory infections and how they work, led some to believe that smoking might actually be protective against COVID-19.
You can already bet...the tobacco industry quickly started to promote these claims, and there was even a marked increase in cigarette purchases in countries like China and France.
How did that happen?
As you might recall, back in March 2020, everyone was desperate for information to understand this terrifying new virus. As a result, many manuscripts were published in journals - on a lot of COVID-related topics - without undergoing the typical peer review process (when another group of scientists reviews your data and research for accuracy). As a result, studies designed to report correlations were picked up via social media and presented as cause and effect.
These studies, however, had many problems with their data collection:
- Upon further review, it was found that one study out of China only actually tracked the smoking status of 7% of participants - the other 93% were classified as “never or unknown.” It’s hard to draw conclusions about whether smoking impacts COVID outcomes when you don’t know how many people you’re analyzing actually smoke.
- It also only included a few patients per hospital - not exactly a representative sample, since we don’t know how the cases were chosen to be included in the study.
- A study done in Paris had more complete data on whether COVID patients were smokers. But they left out the fact that 32% of patients reported being former smokers, and so were not included in the conclusion.
- These studies were both pretty small, with the French study only covering 482 people and the Chinese study only covering 1500.
- These studies only tracked people who were admitted to hospitals or intensive care units. You might remember how hard it was to get a hospital bed back in the spring of 2020. This means it’s likely that many smokers contracted COVID-19, but wouldn’t have been counted in this research because they couldn’t go to the hospital.
- This hospital data determined risk factor and disease at the same time, which is usually the weakest form of research, and only allows you to find correlation, rather than causation. The only way to discover whether smoking was actually protective against COVID-19 would have been to follow a huge group of patients over a long period of time - something we definitely couldn’t do in the spring of 2020
So what’s the deal with smoking and COVID?
Long story short, smoking is still bad for you, and doesn’t protect you against the coronavirus. In fact, because COVID is an airborne illness that attacks your lungs, smokers are likely to have worse outcomes from COVID-19 than non-smokers.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, smokers have a higher risk of more severe illness from COVID-19, and a higher likelihood of hospitalization, the need for intensive care, or even death. This is because smoking cigarettes can cause inflammation and cell damage throughout your body, and can weaken your immune system when you need to fight off disease.
The FDA issued a similar, although slightly tempered, caution around e-cigarettes. Like most things with e-cigarettes, we don’t know as much about the long-term impacts, especially with a new virus like COVID. However, they said, “many e-cigarette users are current or former smokers, and cigarette smoking increases the risk of respiratory infections, including pneumonia.”
So although we can’t say with absolute certainty that smoking will lead to negative outcomes if you contract COVID-19, cutting back on cigarettes will definitely help your lungs heal and lower your risk of hospitalization or death.
How can I protect myself against COVID?
As the pandemic continues to drag on, there are three key ways to continue protecting yourself against COVID:
- Get vaccinated: This is not a political statement. The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are safe, effective, and have all been proven to prevent adverse outcomes from COVID-19. As we’ve learned over the last several months, getting the vaccine will not keep you from getting COVID-19 (and it was never supposed to), but if you do get sick, you are far less likely to be hospitalized or die.
- Keep wearing a mask: Mask-wearing has been identified as a key way to slow the spread of COVID-19. It won’t prevent all transmission, but wearing one will definitely protect you and those around you. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of two wear a mask in indoor spaces if they are not fully vaccinated, fully vaccinated and with weakened immune systems (if you smoke, you fall into this category), and fully vaccinated and in an area with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19 (if you live in the vast majority of the United States, you also fall into this category).
- Quit smoking: COVID-19 is an airborne virus that specifically attacks your lungs. Because smoking harms your immune system and your lung health, the vast majority of scientific research shows that smokers are more likely to have adverse outcomes from COVID-19, including hospitalization, intubation, and death. If you cut back on cigarettes, your lung health will start to improve almost immediately, so there’s literally never been a better time to quit.
If you’re looking for tools to cut back on smoking, nicotine gum or lozenges could be a great place to start. Many people find that when they cut back on cigarettes, they also miss the feeling of constantly having something in their mouth. Using nicotine gum or nicotine pouches can help you start the process of cutting back.
At LUCY, we created chew & park nicotine gum, nicotine pouches, and nicotine lozenges to help satisfy nicotine cravings. We’ve formulated flavors our customers are loving, and with all-natural ingredients, too. Try them out today - this isn’t a hoax!
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should not be construed as a substitute for, professional medical or health advice on any subject matter. Please consult your physician regarding any medical treatment decisions.