SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — According to the CDC, nearly 15% of Americans smoke cigarettes and millions of others vape or use other tobacco products. This portion of the population may be more susceptible to developing severe symptoms related to the coronavirus.

“The only safe thing you can put in your lungs is air,” said Chris Owens, Director of the CNY Regional Center for Tobacco Health Systems at St. Joseph’s Health.

That statement needs to be stressed more than ever as COVID-19 continues to spread, and although they may not know it, smokers could be at a greater risk for the virus.

Owens said, “If your lungs are already compromised, you’re going to have increased complications.”

Smoking affects all parts of your body, but it does the most damage to a person’s lungs. The coronavirus can make it difficult for some to breathe, but for smokers, this symptom can be magnified.

“If a person is already having compromised lung issues as a result of their tobacco use, the implications for contracting COVID-19 are that much more dramatic because it’s primarily a respiratory illness,” Owens said.

According to data from a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine that looked at over 1,000 COVID-19 cases from China, a person who smokes or smoked regularly in the past is 10% more likely to develop severe symptoms from COVID-19. 

According to Owens, smokers may also be more likely to contract the virus as well.

“Tobacco users have been found to have compromised immune systems in general, but it does put them at a greater risk for contracting the virus, but it also puts them at a higher risk for having complications as a result of the virus,” Owens said.

With smokers and people who vape being at an increased risk for COVID-19, now could be the best time for people to start quitting.

Owens said, “If the pandemic going on now isn’t a good opportunity to at least take the first step, and engage their health care team about how they can start quitting their tobacco, I’m not sure what a better opportunity would be.”

Many people think only the elderly have to be worried about the coronavirus, but smokers, young and old, should also be included in the at-risk population.

For more information on the coronavirus in Central New York, click here.

For more local news, follow Anthony Scott on Twitter @A_Scott17

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