With a rapid increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19, Turkey has recently implemented a series of measures to stop the spread of the virus, including a ban on smoking in public places across the country. Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the president of the anti-addiction group, the Turkish Green Crescent, welcomed the ban, but warned smokers of the likelihood of more serious symptoms of the deadly virus compared to non-smokers.
In a circular to governors in 81 provinces of the state, the interior ministry announced on Nov. 11 that a smoking ban would be introduced in “areas such as avenues, streets and stops where citizens gather in crowds.”
The head of the WHO European Center for Humanitarian and Health Emergency Preparedness, Irshad Ali Shaikh, said that “the action is unpopular, but that it is inactively deadly”. The doctor told the Anadolu Agency (AA) that it was “prudent to look at those factors” that could potentially slow the pace of the virus’s spread.
With masks, personal hygiene and social distancing already applied globally and in Turkey, Shaikh said experts are now “looking at any likely factor that could contribute to further spread.” Explaining that research into smoking and the association of COVID-19 is ongoing, he said virus particles can travel further through the air that smokers exhale.
He cited a case in the U.S. when a choir member unknowingly infected more than 55 people in the group in early March. He said the “laws of physics” could explain the super spread in choral practice. Similar to a choir incident, smokers exhale with extra strength compared to regular breathing.
“So, looking at the physics, we would assume that when smokers exhale, particles / droplets (of the virus) will come out and travel with any extra force much more than normal breathing,” he said. He noted that there is “an etiological and physiological pathway that has linked smoking to many respiratory viruses in the past.” Stressing that doctors have noticed double the number of flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a viral respiratory disease, in smokers, Shaikh said the process affects on the immune capacity of lung tissue. Pointing out that research is accumulating in the general population, he said WHO evidence suggests that in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 “smokers are more likely to get serious illness, and even the likelihood of dying was higher in smokers compared to non-smokers. ” He praised Turkey’s efforts to fight the virus and said the country was “making good progress at the population level”. As Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca constantly urges everyone to adhere to the measures and be held accountable, Shaikh said, “The repeated and regular highlighting of ministers shows leadership from the front.”
“The constant emphasis of the Minister of Health and the President talking about precautionary measures shows you that they do not want us to betray our guard,” he said. “The virus is waiting for another chance to infect.” He welcomed the level of public compliance with wearing masks and said wearing masks at home even with close family members and having fresh air circulation at home would further reduce the spread of the virus, especially with the approaching holidays in many parts of the world.
Reiterating Shaika, WHO officer for noncommunicable diseases and life course Toker Ergüder said, “When you smoke cigarette smoke, your lungs smoke with a little more pressure.” “In other words, because of that blowing, you can spread the virus particles further from the required social distance of 1-2 meters (3-6 feet). The other person could become infected as soon as they detect that smoke,” he added.
Reiterating that there is no concrete evidence for this theory, Ergüder said Turkish officials banned smoking “the right decision”. He said that another reason why the ban is wise is because people take off their masks. masks under the chin. They also infect their masks. They would touch a box of cigarettes, pull out a lighter if they had one or ask someone else, and eventually destroy the usability of the mask, ”he said.
Ergüder said smokers have 14 times more severe COVID-19 symptoms than non-smokers, and second-hand smokers also have lung damage and suffer a deteriorating immune system. “A total of 8 million people die each year from tobacco use. More than 7 million of these deaths are due to direct tobacco use, while nearly 1.2 million are the result of exposure to passive smoke,” he said. With COVID-19 measures, Ergüder said that people who wear masks during the day will be exposed to less tobacco and may even stop smoking, and stressed the importance of checking measures as much as their implementation.
Turkish Green Crescent President Mücahit Öztürk also told AA that the smoking ban is a “healthy decision” and stressed the risks of passive smoking. “At the moment, every decision that is made and every step in the fight against the virus is very important. Decisions that would reduce the risk of pollution should be made by the citizens and everyone should participate in this fight,” he said. could raise awareness of the dangers of tobacco use, Özturk believes such a move could also “motivate” people to quit smoking.
Analogous to Shaikh and Ergüder, the head of Turkey’s Green Crescent said: “Smoking and coronavirus are linked in terms of influencing the spread of the virus and creating difficulties in the treatment process.” With smokers lowering the guard by lowering the masks, Öztürk said such action also prevents the proper use of the masks. “Although tobacco and tobacco products negatively affect the general health and functions of all our organs, tobacco smoke suppresses the immune system and impairs its work functions,” he said.
“In addition, the smoke blocks the cough reflex in the lungs, making it easier for viruses and bacteria, which could cause serious infections, to remain in the respiratory tract and lungs,” Öztürk said. Urging all smokers to take advantage of the measures as an opportunity to quit smoking, he said doctors believe the ban will create motivation to quit smoking and expects it to become more prevalent in the world.
According to a recent study by the anti-addiction group, COVID-19 has increased motivation to quit smoking, while one in ten people has stopped smoking due to a pandemic in the past six months. The survey was conducted on approximately 2,500 people aged 15 and over from 26 provinces in Turkey. A total of 62% were men and 38% women. In the study, 95% were active smokers and 5% quit.
“In a study conducted in 2017, the rate of those who wanted to quit smoking was around 37%, while in this study the rate rose to 58%,” Öztürk said.
Smoking rates in Turkey are falling, but deadly addiction continues to take a heavy toll. The country spends a whopping $ 25 billion (190.90 billion TL) a year on smoking, either in terms of tobacco itself or in treating the diseases it causes. According to the Anti-Smoking Association, the public spends $ 15 billion a year on cigarettes, while the government spends $ 10 billion on treating smoking-related illnesses.
In 2009, the country introduced a ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and similar facilities across the country, and over the years has gradually expanded its reach to other enclosed spaces, with a total ban on smoking on school grounds and selling tobacco products in educational institutions.
Meanwhile, Shaikh and Ergüder expect the virus to be with us by the second or third quarter of next year. Despite the number of vaccines introduced, Shaikh said, “Even when the vaccine becomes available, there will be a serious shortage between supply and demand.” But there are still lights at the end of the tunnel, he said. “We may be tired of the virus, but it’s not tired of infecting us.”