Are you a tobacco user? Do you vape? Risk factors with the COVID-19 pandemic

IU Health Social Worker and Tobacco Cessation Counselor Danielle Barwise offers help to patients who vape or are tobacco users. They could be at a higher risk for COVID-19 symptoms.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

Want to quit using? We can help.

That’s the message from IU Health Social Worker and Tobacco Cessation Counselor Danielle Barwise. The research isn’t abundant since the outbreak is fairly new. But studies are beginning to show that tobacco users could be at greater risk when contracting COVID-19, than non-tobacco users, said Barwise.

One study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 1,099 patients in China with COVID-19. Of that number 173 had severe symptoms, 16.9 percent of them were current smokers and 5.2 percent had previously smoked. Another recent study evaluated 78 patients who tested positive for COVID-19; 27 percent of those whose condition declined had a history of smoking tobacco. The article attributes several factors to the progression of the disease including age, history of smoking, and respiratory failure. Lung damage or lung vulnerability can further contribute to respiratory distress, as part of the virus.

For the past two years Barwise has been helping IU Health patients quit smoking through tobacco treatment consultations. Physicians, nurses and medical assistants generally refer patients to Barwise. She also takes referrals from IU Health North’s Schwarz Cancer Center. She averages five patients a day, about 140 active patients at any given time.

As part of the counseling Barwise focuses on encouraging patients to make choices that help them regain control over their health. Patients learn that smoking is a behavior and an addiction to nicotine. They are urged to set goals – find reasons to quit, strategize for change, and keep a log of their tobacco use. Patients also receive support in dealing with stress and identifying and coping with triggers for smoking.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19 I have noticed a small spike in interest from current patients wanting to quit tobacco use,” said Barwise. Patients can call 317-944-Quit or email for assistance.

As part of the tobacco cessation program Barwise asks patients a number of questions to gauge their interest in quitting the use of tobacco. She also conducts a carbon monoxide test that provides a baseline of carbon monoxide in the body based on tobacco use. Patients receive resources to help them quit smoking and Barwise follows up with them every two-three weeks, following their progress.

“It’s too soon to know if interest will translate into action but patients are opening up conversations about the virus and how it impacts them. I understand people turn to things like smoking because it’s a coping mechanism during stressful times. I would encourage them to find other ways to cope. If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to quit, this is it.”