Close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19 is the most common way the novel virus spreads, health officials caution. An infected person can spray respiratory droplets when they cough, sneeze or talk, exposing others to the coronavirus.
But what if a cloud of cigarette smoke wafts your way? Can the coronavirus be transmitted via secondhand smoke if the smoker is, in fact, infected?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t yet have specific guidance on the transmission risk of COVID-19 via secondhand smoke, and, to date, there are no documented cases directly linking infection with secondhand smoke exposure. However, medical experts say it’s possible infected smokers can blow droplets carrying the virus when they exhale, potentially putting others at risk for infection.
“It’s plausible to presume that a plume of smoke, which is comprised of respiratory droplets, can result in COVID-19 transmission,” Dr. Osita Onugha, thoracic surgeon and assistant professor of thoracic surgical oncology at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Health.
Here’s what else you need to know about COVID-19 and secondhand smoke.
The Risk Of Catching COVID-19 From Secondhand Smoke
If someone is smoking, they can’t simultaneously be wearing a mask, which, according to the CDC is one of the most powerful ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Not only are they potentially spreading virus by not wearing a mask, they are blowing those droplets to the people around them to potentially get infected,” Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, told the Associated Press.
Plus, if you smell the smoke they are exhaling, it may signal you’re too close to the smoker.
As far as vaping goes, when a cloud is exhaled, it contains an enormous amount of particles, Loren Wold, PhD, an expert in airborne particulate matter, director of Biomedical Research in the College of Nursing, and an associate professor in the Colleges of Nursing and Medicine at The Ohio State University, told Healthline.
“What we don’t know is how far the particles can go,” he told Healthline. “We know that the virus can attach to particles and can travel three, four or five times farther than they would by simply being in the air.”
Are Smokers At Greater Risk Of Catching COVID-19?
Smoking cigarettes can make people more vulnerable to COVID-19, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, partly because it’s known to cause heart and lung disease. People with underlying heart and lung problems may have an increased risk for serious complications from COVID-19. Smoking can also cause inflammation and cell damage, weakening a person’s immune system and making it more difficult to fight off disease.
A new study from Stanford University involving teens and young adults found smoking e-cigarettes and cigarettes are significant underlying risk factors for COVID-19. The study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teens and young adults who used e-cigarettes were five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than nonusers. Those who smoked both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease compared to non-smoking peers.
The takeaway? Since it’s possible smokers could be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, it may imply that coming into secondhand contact with smoke plumes could pose a reasonable risk.