Both coronavirus and flu may be more severe in smokers

Taking HSE #LastStop 28-day stop smoking challenge means you are 5 times more likely to quit for good

The HSE is calling on people who smoke to take the 28-day no smoking challenge this October and reduce their risk of coronavirus. Research shows that smoking is a risk factor for coronavirus infection.

Studies also show that smoking increases your risk of acute respiratory infections like flu. Just like flu, a coronavirus infection may be more severe in people who smoke.

The HSE has launched the #LastStop challenge to encourage people who smoke to give up for 28 days. This is because people who stop smoking for 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good. Free, personalised support for anyone who wants to quit is available through the HSE’s Quit Service.

Dr Paul Kavanagh, HSE Public Health Medicine Specialist, says:

Smoking increases your risk of acute respiratory infections like COVID-19 in a number of ways. Smoking with other people, sharing cigarettes and touching your face and mouth help spread infections. Cigarette smoke damages the natural barriers in your airways and lungs to infections, dampens down your immunity and affects your breathing and circulation in a way that makes you vulnerable to severe illness and complications of infection.

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are learning a lot about its effects.  Even at this early stage, available evidence points to smoking as a key factor leading to increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. This is in addition to the already well-established and significant health risks of smoking.

There is always good reason for people who smoke to quit, but there is no doubt that COVID-19 means this is now more important than ever.

Put simply, if you are a smoker, quitting now offers you the best fighting chance to beat acute respiratory infections like flu and COVID-19.

And we’re here to help you take the step to reduce your risk and improve your health.

The improvements to your health when you quit smoking begin immediately.

When you stop smoking, the natural hairs in your airways (cilia) and the immune cells that fight infection bounce back and begin to work again to help you fight infection. Within 1 to 2 days, the oxygen levels in your body will improve. Your blood pressure and pulse reduces, which in turn decreases the overall stress on your body. All these things are good defences against coronavirus and give you the best fighting chance against acute respiratory infections like COVID-19.

So in addition to doing all the things we know protect us from coronavirus – washing our hands properly, covering coughs and sneezes, practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and not touching our face, stopping smoking can also help protect you from coronavirus.

The HSE helps people to stop smoking throughout the year. On an average day, the service supports 1,500 people to stop smoking. Demand for online help to quit has increased this year throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Martina Blake, National Lead, HSE Tobacco Free Ireland Programme, offers this advice: “Most people who smoke want to quit but it can seem overwhelming. Preparing to quit and giving yourself the best start increases your chances of quitting for good. We know that people who stop smoking for 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good.

That is why we are asking people to take the challenge and kick the habit with support from the Quit Service. We offer many different ways to get help to get in touch and you can choose the support you want and create a plan that fits with your lifestyle. Get in touch with the Quit Service today and see what will work for you.”

There are a number of ways in which people can get help to quit:

  • A free Quit Kit to help you prepare
  • Messages or phone calls from the Quitline
  • Advice on Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and stop smoking medication
  • An online-personalised Quit plan where you can track your progress
  • One to one support from a Stop Smoking Advisor
  • Daily tips and support from people who have quit and are trying to quit on the You Can Quit Facebook page.

Michelle O’Donnell from Donegal, stopped smoking after 36 years during the pandemic. Like most people who smoke, she had tried to quit up several times but this time things were different. Michelle says:

I had used the HSE’s Quitline Service before and I decided to try again.  I 100% would not have been able to do it without them. It was like having a best friend supporting me for the first four weeks of stopping smoking.  As well as speaking to someone on the phone every week, I signed up for the daily texts and emails and these really helped keep my motivation up. I found during Covid-19, it was a good time to do it, I’m not out and about as much due to restrictions, you don’t have the normal social pressures.”

The HSE QUIT service provides personalised, free support by phone, email, SMS and live chat.  Smokers can free call 1800 201 203 or visit for stop smoking tips and resources, a free QUIT Kit, and to create a QUIT Plan or read other people’s stories. Peer-to-peer support is available on the QUIT Facebook Page or on Twitter at HSE QUIT @HSEQuitTeam  #LastStop #QuitandWin


How smoking increases your risk

1 – Touching your face

Coronavirus is spread in sneeze or cough droplets. To infect you, it has to get from an infected person’s nose or mouth into your eyes, nose or mouth. This can be direct or indirect (on hands, objects, surfaces).

Everyone is being advised to stop touching their face. But if you smoke, you are more likely to touch your face, especially your mouth. This increases your risk of becoming infected.

2 – Smoking with other people and sharing cigarettes

Good hygiene and proper hand washing are especially important right now. The advice from public health doctors is that we should not share objects that touch our mouths, for example, bottles or cups. This also applies to cigarettes, which are often shared between people.

Being physically close to others

Social distancing is important to help slow the spread of coronavirus. It does this by minimising contact between potentially infected individuals and healthy individuals.

You should keep a space of 2 metres (6.5 feet) between you and other people.

But people are more likely to be physically close while they smoke. By stopping smoking, you reduce this risk that you may become infected.

3 – Increased susceptibility to infection and to more severe illness

Smoking increases the risk of acute respiratory infection.   Natural defences against infection such as small hairs (cilia) in airways and immune cells in the airways and lungs are dampened, so it is harder to fight infection.

Changes to the heart, lung and blood due to smoking make people more susceptible to severe illness when they develop infection such as respiratory failure, heart attack, stroke and blood clots.

4 – Second-hand smoke

Smoking indoors puts those closest to you at risk because exposure to second-hand smoke, affects the body’s natural resistance to fighting infections such as coronavirus. Children are especially vulnerable to second-hand smoke because they breathe more rapidly and their lungs, airways and immune system are still developing.

Further information in the link between smoking and COVID-19 is available here:

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