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Data shows smokers who get COVID-19 are twice as likely to end up in ICU compared to non-smokers

There's a lot of worry that surrounds how people get infected with COVID-19 and some people who are at a greater risk of getting the virus are smokers.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — There's a lot of worry that surrounds how people get infected with COVID-19 and some people who are at a greater risk of getting the virus are smokers.

In this week's Wear the Gown, Ashish Tikotekar, Pulmonologist at CHI St. Vincent explains why that is.

“People think if I don’t smoke, just vape, it’s not dangerous,” Dr. Tikotekar said. “That's certainly not true.”

He specialized in patients with lung problems, and those with sleeping disorders.
But it's the doctor who's having trouble sleeping because of the coronavirus.

“Oh certainly, the data is scary,” he said.

That new data shows that smokers who get COVID-19 are twice as likely to end up in the ICU, as compared to non-smokers.

“So that's a pretty high risk in my mind,” Dr. Tikotekar said.

It all comes down to the damage smoking does to the our defense mechanism — the lining of our airway and lungs.

“Now with smoking, that lining is disrupted and it's the perfect setup for viruses and bugs to have a point of entry, leading to chronic inflammation and we see this sudden rise of patients with COVID-19 who smoke,” Dr. Tikotekar said.

He said that knowledge has changed the way long-term smokers think.

"They're coming to me saying ‘we know smoking is a risk, please help us, help us,’” Dr. Tikotekar said.  

And it's not just the older generation.

“You're not immune to COVID-19 if you're young, that's the bottom line,” he said.

Young, healthy people are dying from this virus. Especially those who smoke and vape.

“You're telling me that a smoker is a high risk category? Absolutely, smoking is essentially immunocompromised in our minds.

So what can we do?

“The simple answer is quit,” Dr. Tikotekar said.

Try to quit. Medications can help, perhaps a patch.

“Most importantly, in my mind, knowing your triggers, staying connected, getting support that you need,” he said.

Get that support today, because research shows even 14 days of not smoking helps you fight COVID-19.

“Because our defense mechanisms get restored,” Dr. Tikotekar said.

And we are nowhere near the end of this.

“We are going to see the main peak in September,” he said.  

The doctor tells his patients, if you fail at quitting smoking, that's okay. If you try again the chances are much higher the second time. Parents, talk to your kids. You can use resources on the department of health's website, the CDC, you can call the quit line or talk to your doctor.

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