Weighing the Risk of Smoking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Oral health experts at Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Dentistry have taken a closer look at the risks associated with smoking, vaping, and tobacco use during the COVID-19 pandemic. They suggest that in addition to precautions such as social distancing and hand washing, another immediate step that individuals can take to reduce risk is to limit tobacco use.

“As the pandemic spreads at an alarming rate globally, emerging evidence suggests that patients who use these products are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, and if they do get sick, their symptoms may be more severe and require higher rates of hospitalization than non-smokers,” said Brittany Seymour, associate professor and global health discipline director at HSDM.

Tobacco use has long been established as a risk factor for many diseases and conditions, including heart and lung disease, cancer, and oral diseases such as periodontal (gum) diseases and cancers of the mouth and throat.

“The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health organizations agree that limiting and preventing the use of tobacco products, including cigarettes and vape products, is a top public health priority. But this might be more important than ever today,” Seymour added.

Seymour and UCSF colleagues Benjamin W. Chaffee and Elizabeth Couch point to evidence that shows smoking, vaping, and tobacco use increase risk of infection by making an individual’s lungs more susceptible to disease. They recommend that dental professionals can play a part in mitigating this risk by communicating with their patients who smoke or vape and urging them to quit.  

“Based on what is known today, the following recommendations provide patients, dentists and dental teams with immediate action steps they can take to better protect their patients, practices, and communities,” said Chaffee.

Recommendations for dental patients

If you smoke or vape, take these immediate steps to mitigate your risk for COVID-19 infection and severity:

  • Call your dental or health care provider and let them know you smoke, vape, or use tobacco products; ask for their assistance and support
  • If you live in the United States, find your state’s quitline and ask for support now: map.naquitline.org.
  • If you become symptomatic and are concerned you may have COVID19, be sure to tell your health care provider up front that you smoke, vape, or use tobacco products so they can better assess your needs and risk

Recommendations for dental providers

Tobacco cessation treatment is a central part of high-quality, patient-centered, health-promoting care.

“Dental professionals have a responsibility to encourage their patients to live tobacco-free and offer evidence-based cessation support to their tobacco-using patients. Providers can even help their patients achieve their cessation goals during this extraordinary time of social distancing,” said Couch.

To learn about practical steps you can take to address tobacco use with your patients, download the fact sheet Tobacco Cessation Amid COVID-19 Pandemic: What Dental Providers Can Do in Practice NOW