Now is not the time for smoking and vaping

AMIDST growing international evidence on the risk of developing complications associated with COVID-19, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) is calling on Jamaicans to recognise that substance use — particularly habitual smoking and vaping as well as excessive alcohol consumption — can result in unfavorable outcomes.

“Though this new disease is not yet fully understood, we know that compromised lung function or lung disease related to smoking history, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), puts people at risk for COVID-19 complications,” said NCDA Executive Director Michael Tucker .

The agency said, according to international experts such as National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there is need to be alert to the likelihood that this disease could hit some populations with substance use disorders (SUDs). Given that it attacks the lungs, it added, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be a serious threat to those who smoke tobacco and cannabis or who vape.

Added Tucker: “Excessive alcohol use weakens the immune system so we need to be cognisant of that and lower intake at this time in order to keep our bodies as healthy as they can possibly be. At a time when people are stressed, isolated and fearful of their future, there is increased likelihood that alcohol consumption and smoking will be stress-relieving solutions. We are making an| urgent plea for people to recognise that this could actually put them at greater risk for harm with this newdisease”.

Meanwhile, NCDA’s Research Analyst Uki Atkinson said, “International public health experts are urgently trying to determine high-risk populations so that efforts can be evidence-based. For example we are seeing significantly higher mortality rates among males than females, in all age categories, in countries that have been hit hardest by COVID-19, and this is said to be lifestyle-related – factors such as smoking, drinking, and general poorer health are playing a role.”

The NCDA, in reference to an International Society of Addiction Medicine webinar held last week, said mental health and addiction specialists from countries such as Iran, Germany, Italy, the United States, and Norway highlighted the need for significant shifts in the delivery of care for people across the world who have substance use disorders, in light of the growing COVID-19 pandemic and their unique vulnerability such a homelessness, poverty, limited health care access and other social inequalities.

Said Tucker: “The NCDA, like other service providers around the world, has had to respond to COVID-19 with a revised approach to interventions such as counselling. We are now conducting tele-counselling throughout our islandwide network. We have also had to incorporate messaging about substance use and COVID-19 in order to get people to pay keen attention to this, particularly with the increased popularity of vaping among our youth, so we are using social media channels to achieve this. The old adage that prevention is better than cure is applicable with this pandemic and we urge the public to adhere to measures outlined by the Government of Jamaica that are seeking to keep us all safe and healthy.”

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