Governor Andrew Cuomo has tentatively scheduled a Monday morning announcement to ban the sale of cigarettes for at least six weeks, following new data from Italy that suggests that smokers who are infected with COVID-19 are far more likely to develop serious complications than non-smokers.
Of those smokers who develop serious complications, a higher proportion requires a ventilator, and those smokers who are put on ventilators have dramatically higher rates of death.
Sources familiar with his thinking tell The Inquizitor that Dr. Howard Zucker, the Commissioner of Health, discussed the step with the Governor privately earlier this week. The action could reduce the State’s Coronavirus death count by thousands of smokers and non-smokers.
The temporary ban will be on the sale, not the consumption of combustible tobacco, and is expected to take effect at 11:59 pm on Monday.
Italy’s Coronavirus death rate is fast approaching 10% of those who test positive, and Italian doctors are now saying that the deaths they are seeing are highly correlated to cigarette use. Italian men smoke cigarettes at rates remarkably higher than most other countries, contributing to the extreme shortage of ventilators there.
According to Italy’s National Health Institute, smokers with COVID-19 were one-third more likely to have a serious clinical situation than non-smokers. Half of these smokers required a ventilator.
For many weeks, it was observed that women in Italy are better able to overcome the virus than men. Italian doctors now believe that the statistical difference is attributable to smoking-related gender norms.
COVID-19 kills its victims by compromising the respiratory system and reducing oxygen levels in the blood. Regular cigarette use damages the airways and small air sacs in the lungs. Combustible cigarettes weaken smokers’ lungs by filling them with smoke and tar.
“When a smoker contracts COVID-19, he or she will be far more likely to suffer respiratory system failure, thereby exacerbating New York’s ventilator shortage,” Cuomo plans to say in remarks shared with The Inquizitor. “Fortunately, medical science informs us that ex-smokers experience significant recovery in lung function and oxygen absorption as soon as they quit smoking.”
Former smokers recover 30% of their lung function just two weeks after quitting.
“Any ex-smoker can tell you how, just days after quitting, they were noticeably less out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs. Personally, I have heard hundreds of these stories,” he writes in draft remarks prepared for Monday.
Commissioner Zucker has long advocated for additional restrictions on combustible cigarette sales, which causes more than 443,000 deaths annually — more deaths each year than from murder, car accidents, alcohol, opioids, drug use, gun deaths, and suicides combined.
Zucker argues that a ban on cigarette sales for the duration of the outbreak will save thousands of lives and will reduce the State’s shortage of ventilators, perhaps by several thousand during its peak — expected to hit the State only 20 days from today.
Those close to the Governor argue that temporarily banning combustible cigarette sales during the public health crisis, will mean that ex-smokers’ respiratory systems will make significant recovery at the very same time that COVID-19 cases are peaking in New York.
“This will save lives, and not just the lives of smokers,” the Governor plans to say. “Every former smoker that gets sick, but does not need a ventilator, means one more ventilator is available to keep our aging parents and grandparents alive.”
“Importantly, we must also recognize that failing to temporarily ban combustible cigarettes immediately will cause a disproportionate increase in COVID-19 fatalities in minority communities, given the higher prevalence of immuno-deficiencies in these communities,” he plans to note.
Cuomo believes that the ban will save the lives of many thousands of New Yorkers who do not smoke, because of the increased availability of ventilators for the elderly, those undergoing cancer treatment, those with COPD and chronic respiratory problems, HIV patients, and those with autoimmune diseases — all of whom are more likely to need ventilators to overcome the virus.