By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Researchers at Cedars-Sinai warned Tuesday that smokers could have an increased risk of being hospitalized or placed on a ventilator if they contract coronavirus.

“Smokers often have serious heart and lung health problems already, said Dr. Joseph E. Ebinger, a cardiologist with the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai.  “Add COVID-19 to the mix and you are likely to get a very sick patient. They just don’t have the physiological reserves to deal with the massive inflammatory attack brought on by the coronavirus.”

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“If getting through COVID-19 is like running a 100-meter dash, smokers are having to carry sandbags with them while trying to finish the race,” he said.

According to Cedars-Sinai’s Dr. Zab Mosenifar, the virus that causes COVID-19 could get into the lungs and might normally be destroyed by the protective epithelial cells “but in people who smoke, the virus may be able to latch on to all those extra ACE2 receptors often found in smokers.

“This allows the virus to overwhelm and destroy healthy lung cells and then multiply quickly inside the patient,” Mosenifar said.

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Clinical pharmacist and smoking cessation expert Ndinda Domingos advised smokers who want to quit to work on tapering their smoking and vaping along with setting a specific day to quit.

“During the current pandemic, the barrier to quitting for most of my patients has been the added stress, anxiety and uncertainty that is relieved by smoking or vaping,” Domingos said.

“The long-term effects of smoking and vaping can be more detrimental now since smoking compromises the immune system, leaving smokers more vulnerable to serious complications if they get an infection.”

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)