BARCELONA — Researchers in Spain, one of the countries hit the hardest by COVID-19, have just released new research offering up an explanation as to why more men are dying from the deadly coronavirus than women: cigarettes.
Scientists from Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelona have found overwhelming evidence that tobacco use makes one much more vulnerable to COVID-19. This, combined with the fact that 25% of men in Spain smoke cigarettes in comparison to only 18% of women, led the research team to conclude that tobacco use is a major contributing factor to the high death rate among Spanish men.
Cigarettes and tobacco weaken the cardiovascular system, and over 30% of Spaniards who passed away from COVID-19 already had some form of cardiovascular disease. Male and female COVID-19 patients in Spain are about equal, but the mortality rate for women in early April was 4%. Among men it was 8%.
With all of this in mind, researchers recommend that tobacco products, especially cigarettes, stop being sold during the pandemic.
We all know cigarettes are bad for one’s health, but how exactly do they promote a more severe case of COVID-19? Well, cigarettes can cause our bodies to produce more ACE2 enzymes. The coronavirus can then use those enzymes as an entry way of sorts into the lower respiratory tract and lungs. So, regular cigarette smokers are, in a way, leaving the front door to their lungs wide open for the coronavirus.
“Existing data suggests that patients with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or who smoke have a higher risk of becoming more seriously ill from COVID-19, since it increases ACE2 expression in weaker airways, which this type of patient has,” the study reads.
Right now, there really isn’t all that much data on the number of COVID-19 patients who are or were regular cigarette smokers. Researchers stress that this information needs to be collected moving forward so the medical community can get a better idea of the exact relationship between smoking and COVID-19. It may be even more predicative of a severe diagnosis than assumed in this research.
Ideally, the research team would like to see all tobacco products banned during the pandemic, but that’s not very realistic. So, they also suggest less extreme measures such as a higher tobacco tax or informative advertising campaigns on the dangers of cigarette use right now.
The research is published in Tobacco Induced Diseases.