Man breaking a cigarette

Smoking or vaping is considered underlying condition that heightens your risk for complications from COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

At University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), we are committed to helping you manage your health in this crisis and beyond.

How to Quit Smoking

Smoking and Coronavirus Risk

Smoking not only increases your risk for complications if you get the virus, it can also make you more likely to contract the disease in the first place.

Risk of Complications

The Centers for Disease Control categorizes smokers as "immunocompromised," which means having a weakened immune system. This puts smokers in the same group as those receiving cancer treatments or who have HIV. The CDC cautions that people who are immunocompromised are at risk to get more severe COVID-19 symptoms.

In addition, conditions that reduce your ability to use oxygen properly put you at a higher risk of developing serious lung conditions such as pneumonia.

While the evidence is clear that smoking compromises your ability to use oxygen and hinders your immune response, evidence is emerging that vaping too can harm your ability to fight infection in the lungs.

Smokers are also at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and COPD, which can further increase the risk of complications.

Risk of Contracting COVID

People who smoke and vape may also be at greater risk of contracting the disease because the act of smoking means you are touching your face more.

One virus prevention technique experts recommend is to avoid touching your face because the virus can enter the body when it is transferred from your hands to the membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.

The World Health Organization warns that smoking products such as water pipes may involve the sharing of mouthpieces and hoses, which could spread COVID-19 in communal and social settings.

Reasons to Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking or vaping can help you:

  • Decrease opportunities for transmitting the disease by touching your face
  • Lower your chances of complications if you do get coronavirus
  • Boost your immune system
  • Save money, which may be more important now that the pandemic has caused widespread financial distress
  • Reduce your need to go into public spaces to purchase cigarettes, as many states, including Maryland, prohibit online orders
  • Reap long-term health benefits, including reducing your risk for lung disease, cancer and heart attack

How to Quit Smoking

While it may be more important than ever to quit smoking or vaping now, the stress of a pandemic does not help. Managing your stress and self-care will need to be an important part of your effort to quit.

While some people are successful quitting cold turkey or gradually reducing the number of cigarettes they smoke, others may need some outside help.

Here are a number of methods and resources that can help:

Medications

There are over-the-counter products such as nicotine gum, lozenges or patches that can help reduce your cravings.

Your primary care doctor can also prescribe medication. Smoking cessation prescription medications include:

  • Nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays
  • Zyban (bupropion) – an antidepressant
  • Chantix (varenicline) – a drug that blocks the effects of nicotine in the brain

While most doctors aren't seeing patients in person for non-urgent matters, your provider may be able to help with a telemedicine visit or a phone call. UMMS encourages patients to us MyPortfolio to contact their healthcare provider.

Text and Phone Programs

Smokefree.gov offers a variety of text messaging programs that offer encouragement around the clock.

The Maryland Tobacco Quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), provides free help in quitting. Run by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the 24/7 program uses effective evidenced-based counseling to assist Marylanders ages 13 years and older in quitting tobacco use. For more information or to enroll in the program, visit www.SmokingStopsHere.com.

Quit Smoking Apps

There are a number of apps you can download to help you quit. The types of offering vary widely—ranging from online community support to game techniques to tracking craving patterns.

All of these are free to download but most also offer/require in-app purchases.

Counseling and Support Groups

Support groups have helped many people quit smoking. Many UMMS hospitals sponsor support groups or offer counseling.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many of those in-person meetings are cancelled. However, some are offering virtual options.

  • UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center: Online smoking cessation classes are open. Call the Community Outreach line at 410-553-8103 or go online at umbwmc.org/healthyliving
  • UM Capital Region Health: In-person smoking cessation program meetings are cancelled, but participants can be counseled via phone and Zoom. Call 301-618-6363.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus: The Tobacco Health Assessment & Treatment Clinic offers telemedicine appointments via phone and Zoom. Call Julia Melamed, nurse coordinator, at 443-827-3933.

Also check with your employer and health insurance company to find a support group that fits your needs. Or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.