ONE of the risk factors that increases your chances of getting lung infections like pneumonia, flu and now coronavirus is smoking.

Smoking is one our greatest societal challenges as it remains the biggest single preventable cause of ill-health, disability and early death in Scotland.

Smoking is a significant public health problem causing an annual estimated rate of one in four deaths in Scotland. More than 33,000 hospital admissions are secondary to complications of smoking every year. This not only places a lot of challenges on patients themselves but such peaks, especially in winter time, puts the NHS under immense pressure, costing the health service around £400million every year. Just imagine what we could do for the country’s health with this money!

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In light of the rapidly spreading cases of coronavirus which targets the lungs, if ever there was an incentive to try quit, now was it!

Smoking in itself causes the lungs to disease, making them weaker and more susceptible to catching infections. Tobacco smoke contains more than 5000 chemicals including nicotine which is the highly addictive component. The remaining chemicals include tar and other toxins which not only damage the airways but affect every other organ, contributing significantly to the formation of cancer cells.

Over the past decade we have witnessed much change to the smoking culture with public spaces being protected and bans being put in place which has triggered many to either quit smoking or switch to less harmful options such as e-cigarettes. While this has been a step in the right direction, it hasn’t completely removed harm and risk to health.

We know that the benefits of stopping smoking are multi-fold and not just to your health. I had a patient – a heavy smoker of 40 cigarettes per day over 30 years – who set up a pot where she would put in the money every day that she would have spent on buying cigarettes. By the end of the year she was able to splash out on a luxury holiday for her and her family. I hear such stories all the time and it is heart-warming to see people really reap the rewards of what is a very difficult habit to give up.

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Currently we are advising patients with chronic underlying health problems to be extra cautious as they are most susceptible to developing serious complications from coronavirus compared to those who are fit and healthy. Smoking is high up on this list as it restricts adequate respiratory functioning and suppresses the immune system.

In smokers the lining of the lungs is more vulnerable and smoking causes you to produce more of the receptors which the COVID-19 virus can latch on to. The main target for this virus is of course the airways, so by stopping smoking, you are significantly reducing your risk.

I was delighted to learn that over the past 10 years more than 36,000 people in Glasgow have stopped smoking completely. Furthermore an initiative called “quit your way,” a free service in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, has helped more than 3000 people to quit smoking. This can be accessed easily online or you can find out more about smoking cessation from your pharmacy or GP.

We are fortunate to have the National Health Service and we really don’t thank it enough.

We only need to turn on the news and see what’s happening across the globe in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to see how other healthcare services are managing, and it’s not that great! Compare it to here and we have free healthcare offering an abundance of support services yet we don’t appreciate them.

In summary, for anyone who is reading this and is a smoker, I urge you to seek help and push yourself to try and quit. It is not easy but right now, it’s crucial that you take every measure to protect your airways and mitigate any risks to your health especially from COVID-19.