April 07, 2020 04:23 pm Chris Crawford – When Gov. Andrew Cuomo's so-called New York State on PAUSE Executive Order went into effect March 22, New York ranked as the state hardest hit by COVID-19, with more than 20,000 people testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. That same day, the New York State AFP took its own stand against the virus, calling for an immediate ban on the sale of all tobacco and vaping/e-cigarette products.
"As our state and country struggle to respond to the rapidly evolving and escalating COVID-19 pandemic affecting our residents and straining our health care system, mounting evidence demonstrates the link between tobacco use and increased risk for progressive COVID-19," said Barbara Keber, M.D., president of NYSAFP, in a March 22 statement.
"Now more than ever, it is critical for the state and medical community to take actions to prevent our youth from ever using these highly addictive, deadly products and to help our patients to reduce their risks through FDA-approved cessation and telehealth during this pandemic," she added.
The NYSAFP statement pointed to a study published Feb. 28 in the Chinese Medical Journal that compared Chinese patients with COVID-19 who were nonsmokers with those who had a history of smoking/tobacco use.
Of infected patients whose health either improved or was stabilized, nontobacco users recovered more successfully; tobacco users were 14 times more likely to have COVID-19 progression, requiring more extensive treatment and hospitalization.
"Since smoking has been a demonstrated risk factor for COVID-19 disease progression, which leads to increased use of medical services, especially ventilators, our hope is that by reducing the number of smokers, we can further reduce the stress/demand on the already limited supply of medical resources, particularly ventilators," Jason Matuszak, M.D., president-elect of the NYSAFP, told AAFP News.
Of tools physicians can use to help patients quit tobacco use, Matuszak said his favorites include the AAFP Tobacco and Nicotine Prevention and Control Toolkit.
He said he also steers patients who want to quit to national quitlines -- in multiple languages -- and related resources from the CDC. Additionally, a number of text and app-based cessation services are now available, such as
In addition to the toolkit, the AAFP offers a broad range of cessation resources.
Furthermore, the AAFP has added information on using telemedicine to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. This option can be particularly helpful for patients trying to quit at this crucial time.
"Telehealth visits are a great time for face-to-face conversations that can happen safely using technology, to get questions answered, provide prescriptions, and to help educate and provide resources for patients," Matuszak said.
Vito Grasso, EVP of the NYSAFP, told AAFP News that clinical intervention to help patients quit using tobacco use during the COVID-19 pandemic is only effective if patients and the general public also participate in testing, self-reporting, social distancing and isolation when they have been exposed.
"A ban on the sale of smoking and vaping products would help reduce these dangerous practices generally, and especially among people who are resistant to practicing prevention or cooperating with emergency public health recommendations," he said.
Matuszak recommended that in addition to encouraging patients to quit using tobacco, the current health crisis can offer a platform to discuss making other positive life changes.
"Use exercise as a stress relief instead," he advised. "Most people have a lot more time now to focus on healthy habits, even in the face of stressful situations."