: Mohd Khairul Nizam Aharudin had a scare recently when he suffered from a bad cough and even had shortness of breath.
Worried that he may have contracted COVID-19, the 36-year-old supervisor at Penang Port Commission, who was a hardcore smoker, got himself tested for the disease in early March. The result was negative and further health checks revealed that he had asthma.
But for Mohd Khairul Nizam, the episode turned out to be a wake-up call to change his lifestyle and kick his smoking habit.
He realised that since he was a smoker and had hypertension as well, he was at high risk of suffering from severe complications if he is infected by the coronavirus.
On March 9, he decided to go cold turkey, which was a “Herculean” task for him considering that he had been a heavy smoker for 19 years and needed nearly 30 cigarettes a day to satisfy his nicotine craving.
“But I summoned all my willpower to do it (quit smoking) because I couldn’t bear to think of my wife and children (aged four and eight) having to suffer if I became ill due to my bad habit,” he told Bernama.
It was not easy for Mohd Khairul Nizam to quit smoking so suddenly. Initially, he felt restless and would get angry easily and also had headaches and felt nauseous, all classic symptoms of nicotine withdrawal syndrome that lasted a week.
More than two months have now gone by since he gave up smoking and he feels that he has gained a new lease of life.
“I feel much healthier and also feel that I’ve a new pair of lungs. The best part is, I can’t even tolerate the smell of cigarettes now!” he said.
At a time when the government and people are talking about the importance of observing the new normal, for Mohd Khairul Nizam leading a healthier lifestyle is the ‘new normal’.
“If a hardcore smoker like me can give up smoking, anyone else can do it too. All they need is determination,” he said.
To ensure he remains consistent and adheres to his nicotine-free lifestyle, Mohd Khairul Nizam has been keeping his Facebook friends updated on his progress and even inspired some of them to quit smoking as well.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia community health expert Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh, meanwhile, said the current pandemic is a good time for smokers to give up the habit, as they face a higher risk of suffering from severe complications, should they get infected as the virus primarily attacks the lungs.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), studies have shown that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 outcomes.
This, said Dr Sharifa Ezat, is due to the fact that most heavy and chronic smokers have lungs that have been damaged by the chemicals produced by the burning tobacco.
“If they contract COVID-19, they may end up in a critical condition. Smokers also usually have other health issues like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure.
“The existence of other diseases increases the risk of death for COVID-19 patients, more so if they are senior citizens,” said Dr Sharifa Ezat, who is also deputy dean of UKM’s Medical Faculty.
Recent studies by WHO have indicated that smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 through contact with fingers and lips with contaminated cigarettes.
MailOnline, the website of UK newspaper the Daily Mail, carried a report yesterday stating that 300,000 Britons have quit smoking due to COVID-19 fears.
Are electronic cigarettes or vapes safe to use? No, according to Dr Sharifa Ezat. She said although there were not many studies linking COVID-19 with e-cigarette (nicotine-free) smokers, but the e-liquid refills used in e-cigarettes containing propylene glycol, glycerine, acetaldehyde or diacetyl may lead to lung damage.
“Propylene glycol and glycerine can be used for cooking purposes but not to be inhaled into the lungs. Anyway, considering that e-cigarette smokers and vapers have a history of smoking cigarettes, their lungs are probably already damaged,” she added.
Commenting on the danger posed by passive smoking, Dr Sharifa Ezat said during the Movement Control Order and conditional MCO, many smokers would have been smoking at home, thus exposing their family members to passive smoking.
“People exposed to passive smoking face the same risks as smokers themselves. In fact, the risk of getting cancer increases by 20 to 30 per cent and heart disease by 25 to 40 per cent for passive smokers who live with smokers,” she said.
Commenting on the danger of third-hand smoke, Kuala Lumpur Pantai Hospital lung specialist Dr Helmy Haja Mydin said residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke can cause people to be exposed to these chemicals when they touch contaminated surfaces or breath in the off-gassing from these surfaces.
Dr Helmy said the nicotine and other substances can cling to clothes, furniture, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces long after smoking has stopped. The residue from thirdhand smoke also builds up on surfaces over time.
“Children and non-smoking adults might be at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they inhale, swallow or touch substances containing third-hand smoke,” he added.