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A dual pandemic impact for people who smoke or vape

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — People who smoke or vape have a higher risk for COVID-19. However, more people are quitting due to the pandemic. 

Specialists at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center and Tobacco Treatment Program said people who both smoke and vape are seven times more likely to be infected with COVID-19. The program in Indianapolis has seen a 50% increase in people trying to quit smoking or vaping since the pandemic started.

“I had a huge increase. Patients were reaching out to me, curious to know if now would be a better time to quit,” said Daniel Barwise, a tobacco treatment specialist and licensed social worker. “We definitely had an increase in patient volume. More people are wanting to quit now more than ever.”

The hand-to-mouth movement while smoking or vaping means the virus can more easily spread. Smoking and vaping weakens the lungs and suppresses the immune system, which makes a COVID-19 infection more severe. A study from UCLA also shows that smoking reduces proteins called interferons in the airways and decreases the body’s ability to attack the virus.

“People do have more intensive symptoms, more complications related to COVID-19, specifically related to the respiratory side,” said Deborah Hudson, the program director of the treatment program. “Just overall, their symptoms are more significant and they are more likely to need more intensive treatment including hospitalization for their COVID-19.”

These specialists said the pandemic is a perfect time to quit smoking. People should first recognize their triggers and have a support system to help them through the process.

People who want to quit smoking or vaping can reach out to IU Health for help. They can call 317-944-QUIT (7848) or email for assistance. Free assistance is also available by calling the Indiana Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.