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By Annie Keller

Published September4, 2020

Spain has taken an unusual step in the fight against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) – it has banned smoking in public places. Although smoking bans aren’t new to anyone, this is the first to ban smoking outside in public places if social distancing is not possible.

What does smoking have to do with COVID? More than you might think.

A recent study showed that it’s possible to get sick from secondhand smoke . Since it’s been in someone’s lungs before it got exhaled, it’s capable of containing the droplets that carry the virus. Smokers also tend to exhale more deeply when smoking, making it possible for the virus to spread over longer distances, past the standard “social distancing” space of 6 feet. Another study found that people who smoke are more likely to get COVID than those who don’t.

Many people who smoke have responded to the pandemic by trying to quit smoking. It’s estimated one million people in the UK have recently quit smoking or attempted to stop; 41% of those people specifically said that COVID was the reason for change.

Other countries have banned more than smoking. South Africa banned smoking in March, along with drinking alcohol as a result of lockdown measures. Smokers, in response, began a substantial underground trade in cigarettes, depriving the country of any potential tax revenue and taking away any potential benefits to smoking reduction. In the end, South Africa still has the highest rate of infection in all of the African continent. The tiny country of Bhutan put in a similar ban but abandoned it when leaders found that smokers went to nearby India to get cigarettes. Since India’s infection rate is far higher than Bhutan’s, the risk of infection went up with those border crossings, and the reason for the ban went out the window.

Many health professionals from around the world have advised smokers to quit due to the increased risk of SARS-Cov-2 infection. Although a pandemic is not a typical reason to stop smoking, it won’t have any different practical effect than quitting for any of the myriad other reasons. Many people may find this is the best time to quit.

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