DENVER — Smokers could have a greater risk of having complications from COVID-19 respiratory infections, according to the results of two recent studies.

Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in December 2019, a few studies have been published about risk factors.

These studies did not focus specifically on the effects of smoking as it relates to the novel virus; however, researchers did look at patients who were smokers or used to be smokers to see how the infection progressed.

The Chinese Medical Journal released a study in February that followed 78 COVID-19 patients from China, and found that the five with a history of smoking were 14 times more likely to develop pneumonia.

A bigger picture was also published in February. 

The New England Journal of Medicine looked at 1,099 people in China who had the disease, and of the 173 of them who formed severe symptoms, almost 17 percent of those patients were current smokers. About five percent had previously smoked.

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Critics have said that because the virus is so new, we do not have enough information to confidently say that smokers have an increased risk of getting COVID-19 and having complications.

9Health Medical Expert Dr. Payal Kohli believes smokers are at a higher risk because of what we already know about what smoking does to lungs.

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“Smoking is a huge risk factor,” Dr. Kohli said. “There are a few different mechanisms by which smoking increases the risk.”

First, Dr. Kohli told us smokers have chronic inflammation inside their lungs, which makes lung cells work less efficiently to clear particles and viruses. She believes that makes the risk of contracting COVID-19 higher.

“Second, because of the chronic inflammation, you actually have chronic damage to your lungs," said Dr. Kohli. "If you do contract the infection…the reserve compacity of your lungs is significantly reduced [so] you’re more likely to have complications.”

Finally, Dr. Kohli said if you do end up getting pneumonia, your responses can be exaggerated because of chronic inflammation and lung damage.

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9NEWS asked Dr. Kohli about whether this same reasoning applies to marijuana and vaping. She said yes.

Especially during the time of a pandemic, that we don’t have a treatment for, that we don’t have a preventive therapy for, it’s really important to really maximize your chances of doing well if you were to catch this infection.”

Dr. Kohli suggests that habitual smokers try to quit now to give themselves a better chance of fighting off the infection in the future.

“In the short-term, it may not affect your risk, but in the long-term, not just with this virus but also with other viruses out there, it certainly does decrease your risk of respiratory infections and complications.”

If you need help quitting smoking, the Colorado Quit Line is free and up and running.