A NORTH-East respiratory doctor is making a powerful plea for smokers to quit for Covid-19 and other vital health reasons in a major new campaign launching this week on TV, radio, digital and social media.

Dr Ruth Sharrock’s “don’t wait” appeal is a reminder of the many reasons to quit smoking – lung damage, weakened immune systems, cancer, heart attack, diabetes and stroke – which means if people do get the coronavirus, symptoms could be more severe.

The campaign – across the North East and North Cumbria - is being launched by Fresh with the North East and North Cumbria NHS Integrated Care System Prevention Board.

The latest advice to smokers and vapers from Public Health England is that if you smoke, you generally have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infections and of more severe symptoms once infected. Coronavirus symptoms may, therefore, be more severe if you smoke. Stopping smoking will bring immediate benefits to health, including if you have an existing smoking-related disease.

Consultant Dr Ruth Sharrock, from Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust and a member of Gateshead Smokefree Alliance, said: “We all want to protect ourselves and our families right now, but that is especially important if you smoke.

“In the last few months we have seen the awful effects of Covid-19 across our hospitals and communities.

"We already know smoking causes many diseases, and harms the lungs and immune system and making it harder for the body to fight off infection.

"This means if you do get coronavirus, symptoms may be more severe. I am really proud to support this campaign and to share my own experiences, hoping that it inspires more people to make quit attempts."

She added: “In my role, I particularly work with patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, so I see the terrible harms of smoking on a daily basis. It is devastating to watch patients and their families having to deal with such difficult diagnoses.

“It is never too late to see the benefits that come from quitting smoking. Even if it has already caused health problems, whilst some diseases can not be reversed, the disability that they cause, or the response to treatment can still be improved by stopping. I see some incredible success stories from patients who have been able to stop, despite considerable health issues already - they get a new lease of life and all wish they had done it sooner. You should never give up on yourself – my advice is to give it another go and try until you succeed.”

Dr Guy Pilkington, Newcastle GP and clinical lead for Population Health and Prevention for the North East and Cumbria NHS, said: “Reducing smoking is vital to reduce health inequalities in the region. This is why prevention is a key priority and why we are supporting efforts to reduce overall adult smoking to 5% by 2025.

“I know personally from seeing patients how important it is for us to support people to stop smoking and whilst I know it can be hard to quit, I am always so pleased when patients do manage to do this- it’s the best thing they can do for their health.”

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “There has possibly never been a more important time to quit smoking than right now. The coronavirus pandemic is focusing everyone’s minds on staying healthy and for people who smoke, quitting is an incredibly important step.

“We know that some people think it is too late to see any benefits from quitting smoking, but the fact is that there are health benefits to be gained from quitting at any age.

“We are delighted to see such support from our NHS and from Directors of Public Health to raise this important message and to encourage more smokers to quit.”