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We’ve been told for decades that smoking could damage our health and that it can kill.

Over the past 20 years or so, the message is even more pervasive — and questionable: SMOKING KILLS.

Naturally, when the novel (new) coronavirus reared its ugly head, the WHO told us that smokers were among the first who could become infected.

In reality, the opposite seems to have happened, such that a group of French researchers studied nicotine and coronavirus.

On April 23, the Telegraph recapped the early COVID-19 warnings to deadly, filthy smokers — of whom I am one. I never believed this for a second, because, according to our betters in health organisations worldwide, smokers are susceptible to everything (emphases mine):

A study from China prompted Public Health England and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States to put smoking on the list of ‘risk factors’ for coronavirus earlier in the crisis.

Public Health England said: “Smoking tobacco is known to damage the lungs and airways causing a range of severe respiratory problems. The evidence clearly shows Covid-19 virus attacks the respiratory system, which explains why smokers are at greater risk. A small but highly impactful survey from China finds that smokers with Covid-19 are 14 times more likely to develop severe disease.”

Quick, panic stations!

Once coronavirus patients entered hospital, the opposite happened. On April 22, the Daily Mail reported:

One study in China, where the pandemic began, showed only 6.5 per cent of COVID-19 patients were smokers, compared to 26.6 per cent of the population.

Another study, by the Centers for Disease Control in the US, found just 1.3 per cent of hospitalised patients were smokerscompared to 14 per cent of America.

And research by hospitals in Paris found that smokers were under-represented in both inpatients and outpatients, suggesting that any protective effect could affect anyone, not just those hospitalised by their illness.

The Mail credited veteran smoker, English artist David Hockney, with this prediction:

It comes after world-famous artist David Hockney last week said he believes smoking could protect people against the deadly coronavirus.

I did not read exactly what David Hockney said, but my own take is that smoke and tar in the lungs will put paid to coronavirus — in many cases.

France was the only nation with enough bottle (audacity) to study this in detail after finding a low number of smokers in Parisian hospitals. On April 23, RFI reported:

Researchers from several institutions saw that of the 11,000 or so patients hospitalised in Paris public hospitals for Covid-19 at the start of April, only 8.5 percent were smokers, compared to 25.4 percent of the general public.

They then looked more closely at 482 patients at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris who tested positive for Covid-19 and found a similar phenomeon: the 343 hospitalised for serious complications had  a smoking rate of 4.4 percent, and 5.3 percent of the 139 who were sent home with less serious symptoms smoked.

Upon further investigation, accounting for age and sex, the researchers found that the small number of smokers appeared to have had some kind of protection against the virus.

The findings were in line with a study on Covid-19 in China, published at the end of March in the New England Journal of Medicine, that found 12.6 percent of 1,099 people studied, who tested positive for Covid-19 were smokers, while the smoking rate in China is around 28 percent.

Researchers from the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research), INSERM (National Institute for Health and Medical Research), l’Assistance Publique — Hôpitaux de Paris (public hospitals in Paris), the Sorbonne, the Collège de France and the famous Pasteur Institute jointly published an article summarised here in French.

Qeios has a scientific summary in English. The French researchers are now treating some patients with nicotine patches, believing that nicotine may be repelling the coronavirus.

Their preliminary conclusions are the following:

Nicotine may be suggested as a potential preventive agent against Covid-19 infection. Both the epidemiological/clinical evidence and the in silico findings may suggest that Covid-19 infection is a nAChR disease that could be prevented and may be controlled by nicotine. Nicotine would then sterically or allosterically compete with the SARS-CoV-2 binding to the nAChR. This legitimates the use of nicotine as a protective agent against SARS-CoV-2 infection and the subsequent deficits it causes in the CNS. Thus, in order to prevent the infection and the retro-propagation of the virus through the CNS, we plan a therapeutic assay against Covid-19 with nicotine (and other nicotinic agents) patches or other delivery methods (like sniffing/chewing) in hospitalized patients and in the general population.

In conclusion, we propose, and try to justify, the hypothesis that nAChRs play a critical role in the pathophysiology of SARS-CoV-2 infection and as a consequence propose nicotine and nicotinic orthosteric and/or allosteric agents as a possible therapy for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Interestingly, ivermectin, which has been recently shown to inhibit the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in cells in vitro [53], is a positive allosteric modulator of a7 nAChR [54]. The nicotinic hypothesis might be further challenged by additional clinical studies and by experimental observations determining whether SARS-CoV-2 physically interacts with the nAChR in vitro, for instance by electrophysiological recordings, high resolution EM and by animal model studies. Further work should also specify the still enigmatic relationships between ACE2 and nAChRs in the nervous system.

One should not forget that nicotine is a drug of abuse [55] responsible for smoking addiction. Smoking has severe pathological consequences and remains a serious danger for health. Yet under controlled settings, Nicotinic agents could provide an efficient treatment for an acute infection such as Covid-19.

The Guardian has more on how the studies were and are being carried out. The renowned Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris was also involved in the report and is taking part in further research:

The renowned French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who reviewed the study, suggested the nicotine might stop the virus from reaching cells in the body preventing its spread. Nicotine may also lessen the overreaction of the body’s immune system that has been found in the most severe cases of Covid-19 infection.

The findings are to be verified in a clinical study in which frontline health workers, hospital patients with the Covid-19 virus and those in intensive care will be given nicotine patches

“Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that those who smoke every day are much less likely to develop a symptomatic or severe infection with Sars-CoV-2 compared with the general population,” the Pitié-Salpêtrière report authors wrote.

“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,” it added.

The Telegraph looked at what the Pasteur Institute has been doing:

It may sound counterintuitive that people who puff on Gauloises are less likely to catch a virus that can cause deadly attacks on the lungs. However, that was the statistical outcome of an in-depth study conducted by the Pasteur Institute, a leading French research centre into the disease.

The institute tested almost 700 teachers and pupils of a school in Crépy-en-Valois in one of the hardest-hit areas in France, as well as their families. The “highly accurate” tests found that only 7.2 per cent of smokers from among the adults tested were infected while four times as many non-smokers, some 28 per cent, were infected.

Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist at the institute, warned that they were not encouraging people to take up smoking, remarking that those smokers who do catch the virus “risk suffering more complications” than others. Scientists suggested it could be the nicotine in cigarettes that was behind the surprising results regarding infection, although more research is needed

Even a tobacco control researcher agrees that, during the coronavirus crisis, nicotine may benefit those who use it. Also see Thread Reader:

She had a bit more:

I look forward to a future update from the French.

Meanwhile, it’s good news for smokers during the pandemic.

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