Researchers at Cedars-Sinai warned that smokers could have an increased risk of being hospitalized or placed on a ventilator if they contract coronavirus.
"Smokers often have serious heart and lung health problems already. Add COVID-19 to the mix and you are likely to get a very sick patient. They just don't have the physiological reserves to deal with the massive inflammatory attack brought on by the coronavirus," said Dr. Joseph E. Ebinger, a cardiologist with the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai.
"If getting through COVID-19 is like running a 100-meter dash, smokers are having to carry sandbags with them while trying to finish the race," he said.
Dr. Zab Mosenifar, a pulmonologist and the Geri and Richard Brawerman Chair in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Cedars Sinai, noted that the virus that causes COVID-19 could get into the lungs and might normally be destroyed by the protective epithelial cells.
"But in people who smoke, the virus may be able to latch on to all those extra ACE2 receptors often found in smokers. This allows the virus to overwhelm and destroy healthy lung cells and then multiply quickly inside the patient," Mosenifar said in advising smokers that it may be the right time for them to quit.
Ndinda Domingos, a clinical pharmacist and smoking cessation expert at Cedars-Sinai, urged smokers who want to quit to work on tapering their smoking and vaping and to set a "quit date."
"During the current pandemic, the barrier to quitting for most of my patients has been the added stress, anxiety and uncertainty that is relieved by smoking or vaping," Domingos said. "The long-term effects of smoking and vaping can be more detrimental now since smoking compromises the immune system, leaving smokers more vulnerable to serious complications if they get an infection."