Last updated on May 15th, 2020
Recent data points to the hypothesis that the proportion of smokers infected with the coronavirus is much lower than the rates in the general population.
Renowned neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux from France’s Pasteur Institut, along with three colleagues has formed the hypothesis that nicotine can play a role in preventing and treating the SARS-CoV-2 infection – Covid-19.
The theory is that nicotine could adhere to cell receptors, therefore blocking the virus from entering cells and spreading in the body.
– Jean-Pierre Changeux
The team from the Pasteur Insititut has to date, examined 350 coronavirus patients along with 139 individuals who are infected and have milder symptoms.
The researches learned that only 4.4% of the coronavirus patients hospitalized were regular smokers, and 5.3% of the homebound patients smoked. This indicates the proportion of smokers infected with the corona virus is much lower than the rates in the general population.
The conclusion also suggested that smokers have a much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe Covid-19 infection as compared to the general population.
The effect is significant. It divides the risk by five for ambulatory patients and by four for those admitted to hospital. We rarely see this in medicine.”
While this could lead to valuable information, the experts are not saying people should start smoking or use nicotine patches to safeguard themselves from the disease. Nicotine is still an addictive substance, and tobacco is still the number one killer in France.
Nicotine Products Now Banned In France
On April 24th, French Minister for Solidarity and Health, Olivier Veran restricted sales of nicotine substitutes. His reason, reported in Reuters, is “to avoid a shortage of products such as nicotine patches for patients and to prevent the wrong use, and overuse, of substitutes used to fight nicotine dependence.”
France’s plan is to use nicotine patches on health workers at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris to see if it protects them against contracting the virus.
With the current death rate from the virus at 21,000 in France, the researchers are awaiting approval from French health authorities to carry out further clinical trials.
Other Statistics Are Leaning Towards the Nicotine Hypothesis
The Centers for Disease Control in the US has also been studying the affect of nicotine (or the lack of it). The CDC found just 1.3 per cent of hospitalized patients were smokers – compared to 14 per cent of America.
Back in March 2002 China released data compiled from five studies that smokers had much lower rates of infection than the general public. Just 3.9-14.5 percent of diagnosed COVID-19 patients were listed as smokers, while the smoking rate for Chinese men is about 50 percent.
In January, 2020 Eliana Golberstein Rubashkyn, a New Zealand pharmaceutical researcher suggested that nicotine prevents fixation of the virus in ACE2 receptors preventing the disease from taking hold.
News From Dr. Farsalinos
Renowned cardiologist and e-cigarette researcher, Konstantinos Farsalinos has been following the nicotine/coronavirus relationship and the idea that nicotine may indeed block the virus from targeting human cells. His preliminary study noted that there was a low percentage of smokers in those infected with covid 19, and that nicotine might block the virus from attacking cells.
Dr. Farsalinos updated his study and included these key points:
- “This preliminary analysis does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalization for COVID-19. Instead, these consistent observations, which are further emphasized by the low prevalence of current smoking among COVID-19 patients in the US (1.3%), raises the hypothesis that nicotine may have beneficial effects on COVID-19.”
- “No studies recording e-cigarette use status among hospitalized COVID-19 patients were identified. Thus, no recommendation can be made for e-cigarette users. The above-mentioned observations, together with the potential mechanisms through which nicotine interacts with the inflammatory process and the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone axis involved in the development of COVID-19, warrant an urgent investigation of the clinical effects of pharmaceutical nicotine on COVID-19 susceptibility, progression and severity.”
- “The generalized advice to quit smoking as a measure to improve health risk remains valid, but no recommendation can currently be made concerning the effects of smoking on the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19.”
Dr. Farsalinos is calling for clinical trials to test the hypothesis using nicotine replacement therapies which include e-cigarettes. He has stated,
“There is no doubt that more data are needed, and we are willing to expand our analysis once more case series are presented in the literature.”
A Report from SMC
The Science Media Center in Great Britain, a charity dedicated to providing accurate, evidence-based information about science and engineering through the media, released a statement:
“People can make a huge contribution to their own protection against COVID19 by stopping smoking – even if it is simply during this pandemic”….“Vaping is also preferable to smoking due to the lack of tar and other toxic chemicals, however it is possible that the hot gases involved in vaping may also have a negative effect on the cilia and overall lungs function, although this is likely to be far less harmful to the body’s respiratory system than smoking. But we need more research to fully understand this impact”.
While we are now seeing some data pointing to a positive affect of nicotine and resistance to the COVID-19 virus, there are still many factors that need to be considered when interpreting the results. The theories are just that; they are inconclusive and must be considered as a hypothesis until further testing is conducted and reported. We will update this report as it develops.