Researchers are investigating the effects of nicotine on COVID-19, the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and evidence for a surprising hypothesis: Cigarette smokers are less likely than non-smokers to contract the virus.
Cardiologist Konstantinos Farsalinos told InsideSources he is investigating why smokers are disproportionately unlikely to become COVID-19 cases. He explained there is a need to explore the prevalence of current smoking behaviors among those who were diagnosed with the virus.
Farsalinos provided an advanced release of a study that he’s leading, which examines why the pandemic numbers indicate smokers have lower odds of being hospitalized with a virus diagnosis.
“The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence and effects of current smoking on adverse outcomes among hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” the preliminary study states. “An unexpectedly low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Hospitalized current smokers had higher odds compared to non-current smokers but lower odds compared to former smokers for an adverse outcome.”
Farsalinos performed a systemic literature review of COVID-19 studies, focusing on hospitalization data, classifying patients into less and more severe disease status.
His analysis found that among 6,515 patients with the diagnosis, 440 were current smokers.
The prevalence of smokers was 6.8 percent, which includes data from Chinese studies suggesting that smoking and vaping were potential factors in the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
At the University Hospitals Pitié Salpêtrière, in Paris, a team of researchers led by neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux are similarly reviewing the impacts of nicotine patches among French medical professionals and patients who have coronavirus.
These researchers found that 4.4 percent of 343 percent of hospitalized patients were smokers. Out of 139 outpatients involved in the study, 5.3 percent were recorded as smokers. These are significant numbers in a nation where one-fourth of the population smokes.
The Food and Drug Administration currently sees no connection between vaping and COVID-19, though they argue the behavior can still harm the lungs. The FDA also acknowledges that traditional tobacco products do pose more health risks than vaping.
Some public health professionals argue that the coronavirus crisis reveals that the anti-tobacco lobby’s attacks on vaping have been counterproductive.
“It’s absolutely true that if more public health activists had embraced e-cigarettes instead of opposing them and more smokers had been encouraged to switch, there would be less mortality from COVID-19 today,” Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, told InsideSources.
An estimated 2.5 million smokers have given up traditional cigarettes for vaping and other similar technologies.
The relationship between coronaviruses other than COVID-19 and infection among smokers is well documented. Researchers recently concluded in a study for the Tobacco Induced Diseases journal that “smoking is most likely associated with the negative progression and adverse outcomes of COVID-19.” This study cites data that smokers are at higher risk of catching influenza or the MERS coronavirus.
David Sweanor, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, believes these collective conclusions are conflating the potential therapeutic effects of smoke-free nicotine products and the medicinal characteristics of the psychoactive substance with messages of alarm.
“At this point, we do not know what that study will find,” Sweanor said. “Yet, the public attention now focused on looking at the therapeutic roles of nicotine should help efforts to distinguish between it and cigarette smoking.”
“The conflation of the two has created what is probably the biggest current barrier to reducing the tremendous harms caused by cigarette smoking.”