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Why are people who smoke at higher risk of COVID-19 infection?

The World Health Organization says: 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.

Shisha smoking increases the risk of COVID-19 infections from sharing shisha mouth pieces and hoses. This video explains more.

E-cigarette use may also increase risk to COVID-19 due to ‘hand-to-mouth’ action, and exposure to aerosol exhaled by a user that is infected.

Why are people who access community services potentially at higher risk?

People who access community services may be unable to adhere to Government advice around COVID-19 (e.g. experiencing homelessness, living in overcrowded housing, limited access to running water and hand sanitiser). These groups also have higher rates of smoking than the general population making them more vulnerable to infections. In times of high stress and anxiety, people who are ex-smokers may relapse back to smoking. 

Are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at greater risk of COVID-19 infection?

The Australian Government Department of Health says everybody is at risk, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people living in remote communities at greater risk from COVID-19. Community services should consider informing their clients of the following:

  • Stay connected with family, friends and community by calling people for a yarn on the phone or connecting on social media.
  • Stay at home and only travel when you have to.
  • Stay two big steps away from others to stop the spread.
  • Keep taking medicines to stay as healthy as possible.
  • No sharing cups or water bottles.
  • No smoking or sharing smokes with others – Quitline has Aboriginal counsellors to call for a yarn on
    13 7848.
  • Get the flu shot to protect yourself and your family. 

What information should community services provide to clients who smoke?

Community services like yours can help reduce the chances of COVID-19 spreading by having brief conversations about smoking cessation with clients.

  • Ask your clients if they smoke anything?
  • Advise that quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do to protect your health and it will also protect the health of others.
  • Help by letting your clients know you can refer them to Quitline (13 7848) for free support, and that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is available through their local GP and pharmacy. Suggest they call ahead as they may be able to receive help over the phone, reducing the risk of exposure to the virus.

You can also help create a safe environment at your community organisation.

  • Remind clients that according to the tobacco policy, smoking is not allowed on site or only allowed in designated smoking area/s.
  • Empty butt bins at the service regularly to decrease the opportunity for clients to smoke used cigarette butts.
  • Provide or suggest alternative activities (e.g. movies, books, puzzles) for clients to distract them from thinking about smoking during isolation.
  • Ensure smoking cessation resources are easily accessible to clients.
  • Reduce barriers to access nicotine replacement therapy by providing vouchers or subsidies from a local pharmacy, hospital or other arrangement. Participating in the Tackling Tobacco Program may be able to assist you with this.

Practical ways to limit risks of exposure among clients who smoke include reminding them to:

  • Practice good hand and cough/sneeze hygiene. SA Health recommends hands should be washed after a cigarette.
  • Avoid touching the face, mouth and nose as this can transfer the virus from surfaces and increase the risk of infection.
  • Clean and disinfect shared high-touch surfaces, including lighters and smoke packets, regularly.
  • Increase the amount of fresh air by opening windows or adjusting the air conditioning.
  • Do not smoke within at least 1.5 metres of another person.
  • Do not pick up bumpers/cigarette butts from the ground.
  • Do not share cigarettes.

What support is available to help people stop smoking?

The best way to support people to stop smoking is to encourage them to call Quitline 13 7848, plus help them access nicotine replacement therapy or stop smoking medication through their local GP and pharmacy.

Quitline (13 7848) provides confidential telephone counselling to anyone who wants to quit smoking, reduce their smoking or who needs support with managing their cravings while in quarantine or self-isolation.

For more information and to refer or request a call back, visit here.

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This page was last reviewed in March 2022.