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French Study Suggests Nicotine Could Help Prevent or Treat Covid-19

According to a recent study co-authored by renowned French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, nicotine may help prevent infection with the novel coronavirus or treat severe symptoms of the respiratory disease it causes.

At a time when everyone keeps saying how dangerous smoking and vaping are because of the risk of coronavirus infection, a group of French scientists claims that there is something in tobacco that may prevent people from getting infected, or at least help mitigate severe symptoms of the Covid-19 disease. It sounds preposterous, I know, but they are not saying that we should all start smoking as a way to protect ourselves during the pandemic, it’s just that data shows that the percentage of smokers among those treated for Covid-19 is considerably lower than the national average for smokers.

You would expect smokers to be among the most affected by an infectious disease that mainly targets the lungs, but according to a study conducted at one of the largest hospitals in Paris, something in tobacco may actually protecting users during the current pandemic.

The team at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital questioned 480 patients who tested positive for the virus, 350 of whom were hospitalized, and found that only 4.4% of the ones that had required hospitalization were smokers, while among those that had been released home, 5.3% smoked. Note that the average age for hospitalized patients was 65, while the average age for those released was 44.

After analyzing the age and sex of the patients, researchers compared the number of smokers treated for Covid-19 at the hospital to the total number of smokers in France, as estimated by the French health authority Santé Publique France. According to the latter, the percentage of smokers for those aged 44-53 was 40%, while among those aged 65-75, between 8.8% and 11.3% smoked.

As you can tell, 4.4% is a lot less that 40%, and while there may certainly be an explanation for this disparity, the large difference sparked researchers’ interest. The findings suggest that something in tobacco may be protecting people from infection with the novel coronavirus and also helping them better handle the symptoms if they do get infected.

French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who co-authored the study, suggested the nicotine might be stopping the virus from reaching cells in the body preventing its spread, and also keeping the the body’s immune response in check. In the most severe cases, it was basically this tremendous immune response that ended up killing patients.

You may say that, at this point, these are just the assumptions of some researchers, and you would technically be right, but the authors of the study are confident enough that they are now awaiting approval for a clinical trial to test nicotine patches on coronavirus patients and frontline health workers.

Interestingly, the findings of this study were also confirmed by a Chinese study published at the end of March in the New England Journal of Medicine, which looked at 1,000 Covid-19 patients and found that only 12.6% of them were smokers, compared to the national average of around 28%. At the time, the findings were downplayed, because of the questionable data coming out of China.

It’s important to note that the authors of the study do not encourage anyone to start smoking to benefit to this apparent protection against Covid-19. The serious damage smoking causes to the respiratory and cardiac systems, among others, is well documented and not to be underestimated. Even the addictive nature of nicotine must be considered, but under controlled settings, “nicotinic agents could provide an efficient treatment for an acute infection such as Covid-19,” the researchers wrote.

Personally, I don’t have high hopes for this study. This was a cross-sectional study done at a single hospital in Paris, there are too many variables to consider when analyzing the data, and I just don’t think there is anything to it. Still, I found it to be perfect proof of how little we know about the new coronavirus. While some health experts rushed to warn about the dangers of smoking and vaping, scientific studies are painting a completely different pictures.

Yes, these are only preliminary studies, some aren’t even pier-reviewed, but they are still better than going on personal hunches, or worse still, biases. We just don’t know how or even if vaping impacts Covid-19 symptoms, so, until we actually have some real evidence, can we just abstain from warnings and recommendations that could actually do more harm than good?

Not all of use can just give up nicotine just because all of a sudden there is yet another risk involved, so what happens if vapers scared by all these articles in the media give up e-cigarettes and go back to smoking? Is that seen as win for public health?

Top photo: Visuals3D/Pixabay

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