Active smokers are at higher risk of COVID-19 death: A systematic review and meta-analysis

1 April 2022

By: Roengrudee Patanavanich, MD LLM PhD, Tanatorn Siripoon, Salin Amponnavarat, Stanton A Glantz, PhD Source: Oxford Academic



Current evidence indicates that smoking worsens COVID-19 outcomes. However, when studies restricted their analyses to current smokers, the risks for COVID-19 severity and death are inconsistent. This meta-analysis explored the association between current smoking and the risk for mortality based on the studies that reported all three categories of smoking (current, former, and never smokers) to overcome the limitation of the previous meta-analyses which former smokers might have been classified as non-smokers.


We searched PubMed and Embase up to 1 January 2021. We included studies reporting all three categories of smoking behaviors of COVID-19 patients and mortality outcomes. A random-effects meta-analysis and meta-regression were used to examine relationships in the data.


A total of 34 articles with 35,193 COVID-19 patients was included. The meta-analysis confirmed the association between current smoking (OR 1.26, 95% CI: 1.01-1.58) and former smoking (OR 1.76, 95% CI: 1.53-2.03) with COVID-19 mortality. We also found that the risk for COVID-19 death in current smokers does not vary by age, but significantly drops by age in former smokers. Moreover, current smokers in non-high-income countries have higher risks of COVID-19 death compared with high-income countries (OR 3.11, 95% CI: 2.04-4.72 vs. OR 1.14, 95% CI: 0.91-1.43; p=0.015).


Current and former smokers are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Tobacco control should be strengthened to encourage current smokers to quit and prevent the initiation of smoking. Public health professionals should take the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to promote smoking prevention and cession.


This study makes an important contribution to the existing literature by distinguishing between current and former smoking and their separate effects on COVID-19 mortality. We also explore the effects by age of patients and country income level. Findings from this study provide empirical evidence against misinformation about the relationship between smoking and COVID-19 mortality.