Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday said emerging evidence suggests that smoking increases risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as worsens the outcome in people infected with the virus.
Speaking at the release of an e-book on tackling substance abuse and behavioral addiction in the country, Vardhan said alcohol intoxication can also increase the risk of infection and have other effects, including a reduction of immunity.
Similar effects can be anticipated with other drugs as well, he added. Vardhan elaborated on the "emerging evidence that smoking increases risk of COVID-19 as well as worsens the outcome in people who get infected with the virus.
Alcohol intoxication can also increase the risk and the other effects including a reduction of immunity can increase the risk," according to a statement by the Health Ministry.
He also highlighted the harmful association of substance use with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as well as mental health.
On the importance of addressing challenges to addiction in the times of COVID-19, he cautioned that the World Drug Report 2020 "suggests that COVID-19 can have other fallouts just like earlier economic crises have caused — users seeking out cheaper synthetic substances, a shift to more injecting, economic downturn causing the poor and disadvantaged to turn to drug use and suffer its consequences."
Vardhan laid stress on the continued need for a mass campaign to address the issue. "This is a social issue and not limited to the medical fraternity. Individuals in public life and religious organisations should also be involved in raising awareness. Awareness and cooperation between society and the medical fraternity is the key to fight the menace of addiction which will aid in realisation of the prime minister's vision of New India," he said.
Speaking on substance use disorder as a growing public health problem, especially among the youth and adolescents, Minister of State for Health Ashwini K Choubey said, "Such problems will become more rampant as the society adopts a modern lifestyle. The behavioural change also manifests in increased rates of suicides which we have seen during the COVID pandemic."