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Tobacco smoking in the age of COVID-19

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips, thus increasing the possibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus being transmitted from hand to mouth.


Moreover, preliminary and limited data from the international scientific literature on COVID-19 suggest that smoking addiction is likely to be associated with a more severe clinical picture of the disease.


Some studies indicate that smokers who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection generally present with more severe symptoms on admission to hospital compared to non-smokers, and are more likely to need intensive care and mechanical ventilation. This is also because smokers (or ex-smokers) may already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity. Smoking products such as water pipes often involve the sharing of mouth pieces and hoses, which could also facilitate the transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, conditions that increase oxygen needs or reduce the ability of the body to use it properly can put patients at higher risk of serious respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia.


Stopping use of any tobacco product is therefore more important today than ever before. Starting on a smoking cessation journey is never easy, and even less so during an emergency like the one we are experiencing, which has brought dramatic changes to our daily lives, potentially causing stress and anxiety, and forced us to live more or less isolated in our homes. However, it is important to remember that smoking cessation interventions can have significant benefits for our health, also in the short term.


To help healthcare workers and the general population begin a “journey towards change”, by turning a negative situation, like forced isolation, into an opportunity for positive change, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) has launched a dedicated section on smoking and smoking cessation in relation to the COVID-19 emergency, where readers can find useful material and further information on these topics. Quitting smoking is possible:

  • Contact any of the smoking cessation centres located throughout the country, where specialists can help smokers stop using tobacco products, also through personalized interventions. Download the ISS document Reference tools 19/S1 “A guide to local tobacco smoking cessation services. (Updated May 2019)”, by the National Centre for Addictions and Doping, ISS
  • Call the anti-smoking toll-free number 800 554088 (of the National Observatory for Smoking, Alcohol and Drugs, National Centre for Addictions and Doping, ISS), between Monday and Friday, from 10am to 4pm, to receive information and support.

Further reading and support material

Useful resources


Publication date:15 April 2020

Author: Roberta Pacifici - Centro nazionale dipendenze e doping, ISS