France testing whether nicotine could prevent coronavirus

Grant Boone
April 25, 2020

While the results can not be considered conclusive evidence for nicotine protecting smokers against coronavirus - the study size is small, and did not include patients in intensive care - they "strongly suggest that daily smokers have a much lower probability of developing a symptomatic or serious infection with Sars-CoV-2 compared to the general population", the paper's authors argue. China reported that only 6.5 percent of coronavirus patients were smokers out of 26.6 percent of the population who got diagnosed.

A study conducted by French researchers at the Pasteur Institute studied close to 700 students, their families and teachers at a school in Crépy-en-Valois, The Telegraph reported.

Researchers in France say early data indicates those who smoke make up a disproportionately small number of people in hospital with COVID-19.

Of those needing hospital treatment, whose median age was 65, just 4.4% were regular smokers.

Last week the artist David Hockney wrote a letter to the Daily Mail saying he believes smoking could protect people against the coronavirus.

The text states: "Because of media coverage around the possible protective action of nicotine against Covid-19, there is a strong risk that the dispensing in pharmacies and internet sales of nicotine replacements will experience a surge in the coming days".

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However, the virus also targets nicotine acetylcholine receptors found in the lungs, which are binding sites for nicotine.

And overall, the research on smoking and nicotine's impacts on COVID-19 patients is nascent. The researchers are looking to organise a clinical study using nicotine patches, pending approval from French health authorities.

The official also warned that smokers who did become infected with coronavirus tended to have more serious symptoms.

The French findings come despite health professionals warning that those with a history of smoking have a greater chance of an adverse coronavirus case. It divides the risk by five for ambulatory patients and by four for those admitted to hospital.

"You are about twice as likely to have severe COVID disease if you are a current or past smoker compared to someone who has never smoked", head of respiratory medicine at Sydney's Concord Hospital, Matthew Peters, told the ABC.

The FDA has previously warned smokers about "worse outcomes" for them. Smoking alone can be deadly and even put people at higher risk for lung problems in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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