Time for Aviation Ministry to act as smoking increases risk of Covid-19 spread


New Delhi: The harmful effects of tobacco use are well established and accepted globally. And, also the role of tobacco use in public places in spreading infectious disease like Coronavirus.

Thus far, smoking has emerged as an independent risk not only for transmission but also COVID-19 severity, claims Bhavana Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive of Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), a Delhi-based NGO.   She further claims that there is conclusive evidence that smoking increases the risk for respiratory infections, weakens the immune system and is a major cause of a number of chronic health conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which started domestic air travels from May 25, though issued guidelines to passengers to follow, yet there is no clear mention of ‘Smoking Rooms” should not be used. Further the specific operating guidelines ironically allows “Smoking Rooms” to be opened with regulated entry.

“Smoking Room” at Airports, she feels provide greater risk for Covid-19 spread. The pandemic spreads primarily via respiratory droplets—little blobs of liquid released as someone coughs, sneezes, or talks. Viruses contained in these droplets can infect other people via eyes, nose, or mouth, either when they land directly on somebody’s face or when they’re transferred there by people touching their face with contaminated hands. It is also evident that the virus can survive in air and on surfaces and clothes for many days which increases the risk of spreading the virus.

Thus far, Covid-19 is most likely to be spread by smokers, as the act of smoking includes, removing of masks, fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth. COVID-19 infected smokers can spread the virus through floating of contaminated aerosol particles in the air, settling of contaminated particles on objects and surfaces, coughing, sneezing, disposal of contaminated cigarette butts etc.

The dreaded pandemic also most likely to be spread in Smoking Area which is a closed area with poor ventilation and hygiene. Thus, increasing the risk of spread of virus through air and surfaces. COVID-19 impacts a smoker more, since smoking damages lungs, heart and other body parts and increases the risk of getting a severe case of Covid-19. Furthermore, there is a very strong indirect relationship between smoking and the pre-existing conditions, including COPD and heart disease that have emerged as risk factors for COVID-19 severity and death.

“There is growing evidence that smoking is a risk for Covid 19. Smoking worsens lung function and reduces immunity. Smokers who develop Covid 19 infection have more complications and greater risk of fatality. There is imperative need to close “Smoking Room” at the Airports permanently to minimize the risk of spread of Covid-19 virus as well as to reduce the health harm from second hand smoke”, says Dr Harit Chaturvedi, Chairman of Max Institute of Cancer Care.

Contrary to this, the Ministry of Home has already banned the use of tobacco products in public places and spitting. And, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare had also sent advisories to all States/UT`s, for taking necessary preventive measures by prohibiting the sale and use of tobacco products in public place to contain the spread of the COVID-19.

Over 20 states & 6 Union Territories banned the use of smokeless tobacco products and spitting in public places during the COVID-19 epidemic. States are penalizing violators for spitting of tobacco products in public places.

India has the second largest number of tobacco users (268 million or 28.6% of all adults in India) in the world – of these at least 12 lakh die every year from tobacco related diseases. 17.8% of adults (15 years and above) in Telangana use tobacco in some form or other..