–Matthew Holroyd | Paul Sancya | Associated Press | Euronews
Given that tobacco use is thought to kill an estimated eight million people every year, a report that claimed that smokers were less likely to contract coronavirus raised eyebrows last week.
The preliminary study, by the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, stated that “current smoking status appears to be a protective factor against the infection by SARS-CoV-2”.
Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital wrote that “nicotine may be suggested as a potential preventive agent against COVID-19 infection”, based on scientific literature and the hospital’s own observations.
But the study also warned that “nicotine is a drug of abuse responsible for smoking addiction”.
“Smoking has severe pathological consequences and remains a serious danger for health”.
Despite this, the new information has clouded evidence about the relationship between smoking and COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
So what do world health experts say? Are smokers less likely to contract the virus?
No. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), those who smoke are likely to be more vulnerable to infection.
“The act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth,” said the WHO.
“Smoking products such as water pipes often involve the sharing of mouthpieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of COVID-19 in communal and social settings.”
“Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase the risk of serious illness.”
“Conditions that increase oxygen needs or reduce the ability of the body to use it properly will put patients at higher risk of serious lung conditions such as pneumonia.”
Studies also show that smokers were more likely to die than non-smokers during the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012.
In a further statement to Euronews, the World Health Organization say they are currently reviewing research and studies concerning smoking and nicotine.
“The current evidence suggests that the severity of COVID is higher among smokers”.
“The only people who should be using nicotine patches right now are people who need to use them to quit smoking.”
A report in March by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) has also identified smokers as a “vulnerable group” to infection from COVID-19.
The ECDC says that a higher ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme II) gene expression in lung tissues, something increased by tobacco use, may be linked to “higher susceptibility” of the coronavirus.
While available data may be limited, scientific studies cited by the WHO and ECDC state that smoking can make people more susceptible to serious complications from a coronavirus infection.
The advice from the World Health Organization has also been echoed by national authorities across Europe.
A local Foundation Trust for the UK’s National Health System has released information about the coronavirus that there is “an increased risk for people who smoke”.
“If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it,” said Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Chris Whitty.
NHS guidelines also state that smoking increases the risk of “more than 50 serious health conditions”.
The French Health Ministry has stated that smokers are not more of risk of contamination, but they are “more at risk of developing serious conditions”.
France has severely curtailed the sale of nicotine products after the recent study in Paris.
Pharmacies are now limited to selling no more than one-month supplies of any nicotine products aimed at curbing dependence on cigarettes.
Meanwhile, the online sale of products has been banned altogether.
The Health Ministry said the measures were taken to “prevent the health risk linked to the excessive consumption or misuse” of nicotine products by people hoping to protect themselves from COVID-19.
The Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris is planning to clinically test the use of nicotine patches on hospitalised COVID-19 patients to investigate their theory.
Researchers are nevertheless not encouraging citizens to take up smoking, due to other potentially fatal health risks that are involved.
Euronews has contacted the World Health Organization for the latest advice.
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