While recent studies have highlighted the risks that smoking can have on lung health, those risks have been amplified in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, smoking tobacco increases the likelihood of the virus entering the lungs, as the habit creates more entry points in the lungs for the virus to settle.
“We hypothesized that the worse outcomes of COVID-19 infections in regions of the world with high levels of cigarette smoking may reflect host factors,” said researcher Dr. Christopher I. Amos. “Studies of COVID-19 patients would help resolve the influence of smoking on COVID-19 outcomes.”
Steering clear of cigarettes
To understand the risk that smoking can pose when it comes to COVID-19, the researchers analyzed the lung tissue of both smokers and non-smokers. They looked at how smoking alters several different enzymes in the lungs, including the ACE2 molecule, which has become the primary means of COVID-19 infecting the body.
The study revealed that smoking makes it easier for the COVID-19 infection to manifest in the body -- particularly in the lungs. The researchers say the reason for this is because the habit creates greater access for the virus to settle.
Compared to non-smokers, smokers had 25 percent more ACE2 in their lung tissues. These findings are important because participants only had to have smoked at least 100 cigarettes over the course of their entire lives to be considered a smoker for this study. While quitting smoking is typically associated with better lung function, these findings indicate that even light smokers or former smokers can be at an increased risk of developing COVID-19.
The researchers’ work also revealed that tobacco compromised the cells in the lungs that typically protect against mucus or other threats, which emphasizes just how susceptible smokers can be to the virus.
The team hopes that these findings can be beneficial for both consumers and health care providers. Knowing that tobacco smoke puts consumers at an increased risk for the coronavirus can help pinpoint those who could be in need of medical resources.