Massachusetts has taken “the whole of government” approach to the novel coronavirus very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the Office of the Attorney General Maura Healey issued a “COVID Vaping Advisory” last week. 

While not from the Commonwealth’s Department of Health, the document stresses the health implications of continuing to smoke or vape as the pandemic rages on. It provides several strong talking points for pharmacists to use in conversations with their patients who smoke or vape. Protecting their lungs has never been more important.

To start, smoking or vaping puts patients into a higher-risk category across the board, the advisory warns. Both habits may increase the risk of infection. For those who are infected, smoking and vaping may increase the likelihood that they will require hospitalization or external ventilation to survive.

Patients with COVID-19 who have a history of smoking are more likely to develop a severe case of the disease than patients who have never smoked. Smoking or vaping flavored tobacco products, in particular, could make lung infections worse, according to the advisory.

As both smoking and vaping damage lungs and weaken the immune system, they increase susceptibility to viruses, including COVID-19. The damage to the lungs makes these patients more vulnerable to disease and provides a more favorable environment for viruses to attach and wreak havoc on the respiratory system.

As we’ve heard for weeks now, COVID-19 easily spreads from hand to mouth, leading to all the warnings to wash hands frequently and avoid touching the face. Smokers and vapers, however, repeatedly touch their cigarettes and vape pens and then move them to their mouths, substantially increasing their risk of exposure and ingestion of the virus. Sharing cigarettes or vaping devices can also spread the virus directly through the product itself and through the proximity required to share a smoke or vape.

The advisory encourages everyone to discuss these facts with individuals who smoke or vape and advises them to quit the habit. As they try to quit, or if they won’t quit, reiterate the importance of frequent handwashing, social distancing, and not sharing cigarettes or vaping devices. For those who want to quit, the advisory recommends using a nicotine patch combined with nicotine gum for greatest likelihood of success.
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