The researchers estimated the rates of daily current smokers among COVID-19-infected patients in a large French university hospital, between February 28th and March 30th for outpatients and from March 23rd till April 9th 2020, for inpatients. The rates from both groups were then compared to those of daily current smokers within general French population, after controlling the data for sex and age.
The compiled data indicated that the daily smokers rate amongst COVID-19 patients was at 5.3%, whilst amongst the French population, the daily smokers rate was at 25.4%. These findings led the researchers to conclude that daily smokers have a significantly lower probability of developing symptomatic or a severe SARS-CoV-2 infection, as compared to the general population.
Why the pandemic may increase smoking rates
On a different note, a UK paper recently published on BJGP Open is once again voicing the concern of many, that this pandemic risks an increase in smoking rates amongst current and former smokers.
In line with arguments by other health experts, the author points out that the stress brought about by the current situation may have a negative impact on smoking rates. “As the world goes into lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation are likely to make the society very lonely and life more stressful,” said paper author Pooja Patwardhan, a GP and Medical Director at the centre for Health Research.
Patwardhan pointed out that the numerous direct or indirect fears and stresses brought about by the pandemic increase the odds of conditions such as anxiety and depression. Such conditions and even stress are well known predisposing factors for increased smoking (quantity and frequency) as well as relapse.
In addition to these, there are secondary factors at play that one must consider. “There may be people who have cut down smoking as they are not allowed to smoke in their workplace. There will be ex-smokers who have successfully quit smoking by going to the gym or joining a local sports group …These — and so many other ways that people may have used to shift towards a healthier lifestyle — may suddenly be unavailable and inaccessible in their lives.”
Health care providers should look out for “smoker” statuses
To this effect, explains Patwardhan, it is imperative that healthcare professionals look for “‘smoker’ or ‘ex-smoker’ status on every patient’s medical records system.” She explained that patients in this category should be offered advice on relapse prevention, and GPs could send a text message/ email to all patients known to be smokers or ex-smokers, directing them to helpful resources.