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Why is Now a Good Time to Quit Smoking?

Now is an especially good time to quit smoking because smokers are at greater risk of COVID-19 infection and more likely to experience more severe illness if they are infected. Quitting not only lowers your risk of infection from COVID-19 and future diseases but also protects others around you from harmful secondhand smoke.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is transmitted both by direct contact with an infected person and indirect contact with surfaces or objects touched by infected people. One reason smokers and other tobacco users are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection is that the act of smoking involves frequent contact between hands and face, the most common way to contract the virus. This is especially worse in social settings where people share mouthpieces and hoses of smoking products, as in e-cigarettes and hookah.

Smoking also causes irritation of the windpipe and voice box, narrowing the airways and making it harder to breathe. This increases the risk of lung infection and permanent damage to the lungs. In addition, diseases caused by long-term smoking, such as lung cancer and type-2 diabetes, suppress the immune system, increasing smokers’ risk of infections such as pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19.

Staying at home could make it easier to quit. While you’re changing other routines, take the opportunity to leave smoking out. Social distancing can decrease the likelihood of being in settings that increase the urge to smoke. Changing your shopping routine is a good opportunity to stop buying tobacco products. And for some, staying at home might make it easier to deal with the symptoms of withdrawal, such as irritability. Finding distractions can help such as talking a walk, calling a friend, or playing a game.

Remember, staying quit gets easier over time. The smoke from burning tobacco and the liquids from e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that cause most of the diseases associated with tobacco use. One of those ingredients is nicotine, which causes addiction. For most tobacco users, nicotine in the blood is reduced after about 2 hours and is gone after about 2 weeks. Smokers can expect the physical effects of nicotine withdrawal to be the worst in the first 2 weeks after quitting smoking and improve after that.

The psychological and behavioral desire for nicotine can last much longer, but nicotine replacement therapy like the patch and gum can be used to lessen the effects. Quit aids, alone or in combination, are recommended for the first 6-8 weeks after quitting and can be started before quitting to help reduce the number of cigarettes smoked each day. Quit aids make it twice as likely a smoker will quit compared to someone quitting “cold turkey.”  Nicotine replacement therapies provide less nicotine than a cigarette so they aren’t as addictive. Quitting smoking is hard, but telephone quitlines, websites, and mobile apps can help. Some quitlines also provide a free starter pack of nicotine patches or gum mailed to your home. You can find more information at smokefree.gov and get connected to your state’s free tobacco quitline by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

About The Centene Center for Health Transformation

The Centene Center for Health Transformation™ is a community-corporate-academic healthcare partnership that advances life-centric health research to improve lives so that communities can thrive. For more information regarding the Centene Center for Health Transformation, visit https://www.centenecenter.wustl.edu.

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