Senior Medical Officer (SMO) at the National Chest Hospital, Dr. Terry Baker, is warning that tobacco smoking facilitates coronavirus (COVID-19) by creating an enabling environment for the virus to work in the body.
Speaking at a JIS ‘Think Tank’ today (May 27), Dr. Baker, who is also a Board member of the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control, said that tobacco smoke has a direct effect on the lungs. According to Dr. Baker, although tobacco smoke can affect any organ, such as the skin and other parts of the body, the lung is most adversely affected.
She explained that tobacco smoke decreases lung function, especially with extended use, and that this is exacerbated by the regularity of smoking and the number of cigarettes.
“Their lung capacity diminishes with time and that will have an impact,” she said while issuing a reminder that COVID-19 generally attacks the lungs, which would render someone with reduced lung capacity unable to effectively fight an infection,” Dr. Baker said.
“Tobacco smoke also affects the lung’s ability to fight an infection, both at the cellular level and at the organ level, so various cilia and structures that are supposed to help clear mucous and have the lungs working are compromised in the person who smokes,” she added.
Dr. Baker pointed out that the person would not have the capacity to deal with the SARS COV 2 virus or the COVID-19 infection.
“Not only is immunity affected in the person but tobacco smoke tends to turn up certain receptors in the lungs, and these receptors are what the virus attaches to and uses as a gateway to enter the tissues and the cells of the lungs to start its multiplication. In this regard, someone who smokes or is exposed to tobacco smoke facilitates COVID-19 disease infection,” she argued.
According to Dr. Baker, who is a pulmonologist and internist, those persons are also more likely to develop pneumonia, because of their reduced lung capacity and their lower immunity levels.
She pointed out that they are more prone to having low oxygen levels and requiring oxygen support and even ventilatory support, in the event of an infection.
Dr. Baker also warned that tobacco smoke has an indirect effect, in that it increases the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and potentiates diabetes and its effects, “so even if we are not seeing a direct link, we do know that even here in Jamaica, the comorbidities that persons have had, which have resulted in a worse outcome, can all be made worse by tobacco smoke”.
She was speaking against the background of World No Tobacco Day, which will be observed on Sunday, May 31, under the theme ‘COVID is no Joke, it Gets Worse With Smoke’.