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Smokers at Greater Risk of Dying from COVID-19 

FILE - A Jordanian man smokes a cigarette in the capital Amman, March 17, 2021.

In marking World No-Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization is urging smokers to quit their habit, warning they are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than non-smokers.

Head of WHO’s Tobacco Control Program, Vinayak Prasad tells VOA a plethora of scientific studies over the past year confirm smokers face a 50% higher risk of developing severe disease and death from COVID-19.

“It is logical because smoking does compromise on the lung functions and this virus does attack the lungs. So, that is where we see the rational for taking measures to not use tobacco,” he said.

The World Health Organization is urging smokers to join its year-long quit tobacco campaign, which helps countries scale-up their tobacco-control services. These include running national awareness campaigns, opening new cessation clinics, and offering nicotine replacement therapies.

Prasad says it is of utmost importance to make users aware of the risks they run. He says some eight million people will die prematurely this year from tobacco-related illnesses, such as cancers, heart disease and respiratory illnesses. Most of these deaths will occur in low-income countries.

He notes it usually takes decades for these deadly illnesses to develop. Therefore, preventing young people from taking up this habit is essential as that can lead to a life-long addiction.

FILE - Customers puff on e-cigarettes at the Henley Vaporium in New York City, Dec. 18, 2013.
FILE - Customers puff on e-cigarettes at the Henley Vaporium in New York City, Dec. 18, 2013.

He accuses the tobacco industry of targeting young people to get them hooked on their products by offering freebies, such as tickets to concerts, nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes. This, he says has been met with success in many countries. For example, he notes 38% of Indonesia’s teenage boys smoke.

“Likewise, in European settings for example, the girls’, the women’s tobacco use is so high, that the male to female difference is no longer there… The industry is continuing to reap all of these benefits they can getting more and more women, targeting the girl child, adolescents from this divide, and then continuing to push their products in developing countries,” he said.

WHO reports imposing substantial taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective ways of getting smokers to quit. Other successful smoke-reduction measures include a ban on advertisements and promotions, health warnings on tobacco products and designating areas as smoke-free zones.