Two health and environmental organizations issued a common plea to all local government units (LGUs) to strengthen their tobacco prevention and control programs to protect their constituents from the lingering threat of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) even after the quarantine restrictions are lifted.
In a press statement, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH Philippines) and the EcoWaste Coalition pointed to the vital need to reinvigorate existing programs as experts have warned that smokers are likely to develop severe coronavirus disease compared to non-smokers.
"We urge lawmakers to pass or reinforce a comprehensive tobacco control policy to protect the people from the lingering threat of COVID-19 even after the quarantine has been lifted,” said pulmonologist Dr. Maricar Limpin, Executive Director, ASH Philippines
Intensified grassroot-level programs to combat tobacco consumption and addiction will help LGUs in accomplishing their health and environmental objectives, the groups emphasized ahead of the observance of the World No Tobacco Day on May 31.
Such programs may include mass-reach communications drive, population-specific interventions, action against illegal trade of tobacco products, anti-butt littering campaigns, and the active enforcement of related laws such as President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 26 providing for the establishment of smoke-free environments in public and enclosed places.
"Smoking compromises the immune system making it harder to fight infection. Therefore, smokers are more likely to contract the virus compared to non-smokers, and they are more vulnerable to developing severe symptoms when exposed to the disease. We also need to urge people to quit smoking during times like this as we cannot afford to have more people getting sick," added Limpin
For his part, Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition, said “the energetic conduct of tobacco control programs by the LGUs will contribute to protecting human health and the environment from cigarette butts, the most visible toxic litter in our surroundings,” adding “we can curb the disposal of these small but hazardous pollutants on our streets, beaches and dumps by helping citizens to quit or not to start smoking.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) had earlier warned that smoking may increase the risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19 due to compromised lung health. Tobacco weakens the respiratory system and destroys some of the lung's natural defense mechanisms making smokers more vulnerable to contagious diseases.
According to WHO, smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness.
As explained by WHO, COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases. Tobacco is also a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes which put people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19.
Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death, the WHO said.
Based on information from WHO, tobacco kills more than 8 million people globally every year. More than 7 million of these deaths are from direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.