Smoking increases risk of coronavirus death, says WHO

Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity

In Summary

• Smokers are at increased risk of more severe Covid-19, compared to non-smokers

• The act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips. 

A smoker
Image: FILE

If you are a smoker, the coronavirus outbreak should be a warning to quit.  

Health experts have cautioned that smokers are at a higher risk of severe Covid-19 complications compared to non-smokers.

Cigarette companies have also been urged to stop producing and selling tobacco products to help reduce the risks of the virus.


Smokers are likely to contract the virus as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips, experts say. 

This increases the possibility of transmitting the virus from the hand to mouth.

“Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness,” the World Health Organization says.

The UN agency notes that smoking products such as water pipes often involve the sharing of mouthpieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of Covid-19 in communal and social settings.

Given the adverse effect on respiratory health, the current Covid-19 pandemic is seen as an opportunity for both smokers and vapers to quit.

About 2.2 million Kenyans still use tobacco products. Globally, 1.12 billion people are smokers. 

Nacada reports that 8.6 per cent of Kenya's 47.5 million people uses tobacco products and are largely male.


About 17 per cent of males are current users of tobacco products compared with 2.1 per cent of females. It is unclear whether this explains why the rate of infection of Covid-19 in the country is higher among men than women.

“When managing Covid-19 involving an addict, withdrawal symptoms worsen the situation. One suffers from the disease and the withdrawal symptoms. This becomes a double tragedy,” the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance Chairman Joel Gitali told the Star on Tuesday.

Preliminary studies in China have shown that smokers infected with the new virus become more severely ill and suffer breathing difficulties.

“Both sellers and buyers who handle single sticks handle money too. There are high chances of contaminating the cigarettes. Those who smoke also caught more frequently thereby contaminating air around them in case infected. This leads to many people being infected,” Gitali said.

He added: “There is a likelihood of spiting the mucous and saliva both by those who smoke and those who use snuff. Some smokers, especially the low income and the youth share cigarettes. This is very dangerous. Smoking is very risky.”

Gitali said smoking should be banned altogether as a serious measure in controlling the coronavirus spread.

Similarly, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February shows that of 173 patients who had severe symptoms, 16.9 per cent of them were current smokers while 5.2 per cent had previously smoked.

The study which was carried on 1,099 Covid-19 patients in China showed that in a group of patients that either needed mechanical ventilation, admission to an intensive care unit, or ultimately died, 25.5 per cent were current smokers.

Smoking has many negative effects on respiratory health and the possibility of a relationship between smoking (both traditional cigarettes and marijuana) or vaping with Covid-19 were raised by early observations in China. 

Smoking in Kenya is the number one risk factor for lung cancer and is linked to more than 70 per cent of the illness.

It also causes cancer in almost all parts of the body and cardiovascular illnesses such as heart disease and strokes.

Four out of five lung cancers are caused by smoking and nine out of 10 people who get lung cancer will die from the disease, usually within two years of diagnosis.

More people die from smoking than from Aids, car accidents, suicide, murder, fires and other drugs combined. Tobacco kills 1,200 people daily across the world.

(edited by o. owino)