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Are you #CovidFit? Now is the time to Quit!

Public Health Gibraltar are launching a new campaign CovidFit to ensure the community are best informed about the choices they make when isolating in their homes during these unprecedented times. For those in lock down, the absence of a daily routine and often extended distance from regular social interactions can further restrict healthy choices. To launch the campaign, smoke cessation is the first topic to be addressed.

Stub It. Stop It. Get CovidFit

It is widely known that smoking increases the risk of developing serious health conditions, increases the risk of death and impacts the health of all those nearby (through passive smoking or secondhand smoke); the packets have told us so for a while... Yet worryingly, whilst many other countries (including the UK) have seen their smoking rates and sales decrease, in Gibraltar our local figures continue to rise.

Any economic benefit seen to the sale of tobacco is gravely offset by the increased cost to healthcare, to lost productivity, and in preventable causes of death.

Why are we concerned about Covid-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, spread primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate symptoms and recover without requiring special treatment; however, those that have underlying conditions are at a greater risk of severe illness and death.

Smokers are more predisposed to getting lung and chest infections compared with non-smokers; this puts them at even greater risk of severe illness due to Covid-19. The hand-to-mouth action of smoking and e-cigarette use also increases the number of times they touch their face and mouth, further increasing susceptibility to infection with COVID-19. It is also evident that smoking affects the entire immune system, delaying healing and making it harder to fight infection; further hindering recovery if and when a coronavirus infection is caught.

A recent study in China found that more than a quarter of patients requiring mechanical ventilation or an admission to intensive care were current smokers (Wei-jie Guan et al 2020). Public Health England attest that smokers with COVID-19 are 14 times more likely to develop severe respiratory disease.

If you can’t quit, step down!

The role of vaping and COVID-19 is not yet clear. Scientists state that any form of smoking will affect respiratory function and therefore the health impacts will be worse than not smoking at all. Early research also indicates that nicotine exposure through any kind of smoking can increase the risk of COVID-19 neuro-infection in the brain (Kabbani & Olds, 2020).

But if you are someone who finds the idea of quitting “cold turkey” as being too difficult, Public Health advises a step down approach:

Vaping does not expose a smoker to the thousands of toxins and carcinogenic chemicals found in cigarette smoke, and thus can be a useful “stepping-down” tool for any active smokers.

It is important to remember that as the number of admissions to hospitals rise, beds will be needed for the most severe cases. If you can prevent just one admission you could be saving a life. By quitting smoking today, you could save not just your own life but the life of someone’s high risk parent, or child or friend.

How long do you have to stop smoking for to have a reduced risk of becoming infected?

The timing between smoke cessation and COVID-19 has yet to be specifically determined, but we do know that health improvements are seen within minutes of stopping smoking.

Within 20 minutes of stopping, your blood pressure will return to normal

After one day your lungs begin to clear

After a few weeks your circulation improves

Within a few months the rate of lung infections (like bronchitis and pneumonia) decrease.

What can you do?

During this coronavirus pandemic, many people have had to take on job roles they would not normally be involved in. For this campaign teaching staff from Bayside school and from the Gibraltar College have come to together to form part of the Public Health team; further emphasising that health promotion is not the responsibility of one person alone, it takes our community working together to bring about positive change.

If you have a loved one who smokes, now is the time to remind them to Stub it. Stop it. And get #CovidFit.

There are various tools to help stop smoking efforts, such as e-cigarettes, nicotine patches, tablets (Champix) etc. Some people prefer to go “cold turkey”, but research shows you are four times more likely to quit with additional guidance and support. We recommend:

accessing our free GHA smoke cessation service (200 07910)

asking your local pharmacy for “stepping-down” advice

downloading a SmokeFree app to understand your smoking patterns

growing your support network and connecting with others in the same position

checking CovidFit.gi for more information