By Mylene Orillo
Recent studies have confirmed that cigarette smoking can aggravate COVID-19 symptoms in patients and can lead to deaths due to health complications. Despite this, anti-smoking campaigns and the threat of the novel coronavirus failed to change people’s behavior. Some smokers have even switched to vaping, thinking that it is healthier and safer.
Three patients shared their COVID journey and how they recovered successfully. While all cases are related to smoking, they differed in their post-recovery behaviors. One quit smoking entirely, the other is still smoking, but trying to quit, while the third is not even a smoker.
The firsthand and secondhand smokers
RJ Paz, 38, is a registered nurse who suffered from severe COVID pneumonia in August 2021. His father, Policarpio Paz, 58, a solar power installer, also tested positive for COVID.
“My near-death experience with COVID changed my father’s life. He quit smoking entirely and started living a healthy lifestyle. He is health conscious now,” RJ said.
While RJ is a non-smoker, Policarpio started smoking at the age of 17, typically consuming one pack a day. Even when the prices of cigarettes increased due to the Sin Tax Reform Law, he continued with his vice.
Policarpio is hypertensive and has high cholesterol, but when he tested positive for COVID, he only experienced mild fever, fatigue, and a bit of difficulty in breathing, which allowed him to undergo home quarantine.
RJ, on the other hand, was rushed to the emergency room and was hospitalized for days.
“My father realized how precious life was. He stopped smoking for two weeks, and until now he does not smoke anymore,” RJ said.
The smoker trying to quit
Gerald Cruz (not his real name), 32, started smoking at the age of 14. When cigarette prices increased, he still did not quit, and only decreased his consumption and switched to a cheaper brand.
Gerald tried to quit smoking several times by motivating himself, setting goals, replacing cigarettes with vape or candies, enlisting a quitting buddy – but in vain.
“Smoking is the only time that I can relax and temporarily escape from the stress I get from my daily routines. I would smoke 20 sticks [or equivalent of one pack] a day,” he said.
After arriving home from work on May 28, 2021, Gerald felt something strange – he had chills, fever, dry and itchy throat, and loss of smell and taste. He was then sent to the provincial isolation facility.
At that time, he thought of quitting smoking for good because he assumed there was no way he could smoke while inside the facility and 14 days would be a good head start.
However, despite knowing that his smoking might have aggravated his condition, Gerald still smoked as much as 10 sticks a day during his isolation period.
“I am starting to try to quit smoking again…Hopefully, with prayers and strong motivation, this strategy will be successful [this time],” he said.
Senate Bill No. 2239 or the proposed Vape Bill seeks to regulate the importation, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution, use, and communication of vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products.
The bill seeks to lower the access restriction from 21 to 18 years old for vaping and allow the online sale of vape.
It also pushes for the transfer of the regulation of vaping products from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The Department of Health, around 48 medical groups, and 60 civil society organizations under the Sin Tax Coalition objected to the recently approved bill and called for the President to exercise his veto power.
“The approval of SB 2239 puts the Filipino youth at risk. The vape products are harmful and not risk-free and should be regulated as health products due to their toxic substances and effects. Vape liquids and its emission contain chemicals such as nicotine, propylene glycol, carbonyls, and carbon monoxide that are either addictive, toxic or can cause cancer,” said DOH in a statement.
The DOH cited the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, which shows that the prevalence of using electronic cigarettes is increasing among the Filipino youth.
The survey showed there was a 110 percent increase in vape use in just four years, from 11.7 percent in 2015 to 24.6 percent in 2019. It also showed that about 14.1 percent or one in seven students in the Philippines, aged 13 to 15, said that they are currently using e-cigarettes.
As stakeholders and health advocates, ImagineLaw warned of a vaping epidemic once the Vape Bill is signed into law.
“We must call on President Duterte to veto this anti-health measure. This bill is anti-youth, anti-health, and pro-industry,” said ImagineLaw in a statement.
Relationship between COVID and smoking
Dr. Anthony Leachon, an independent health reform advocate, past president of the Philippine College of Physicians, and chair, Kilusang Kontra Covid (KILKOVID), confirmed there is a relationship between COVID and smoking as the former attacks the lungs whether you’re a current or former smoker.
“Being a current or former cigarette smoker can make you more likely to get very sick from COVID-19. If you currently smoke, quit,” said Dr. Leachon.
Even a non-smoker, if exposed to secondhand smoke, can also contract lung cancer.
“Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent,” he said.
Dr. Leachon said switching to vape is not a good idea as it only encourages the youth to smoke rather than stop.
“The difference between smoking and vaping is that smoking delivers nicotine by burning tobacco, which can cause smoking-related illnesses, while vaping can deliver nicotine by heating a liquid in a much less harmful way,” he said.
“The most effective way to quit smoking is cold turkey,” he said.
This story was produced under the ‘Nagbabagang Kuwento (Cycle 5) Covering a Smoke-Free Ph Media Fellowship’ by Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK). The views and opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of PMFI and CTFK.