If you ask the French, we just don’t smoke enough here in the U.S.
In fact, if you ask French researchers out of Paris, they’d tell you Americans who don’t smoke are in more danger from COVID-19 than smokers are.
These French researchers recently theorized that declining smoking rates might be one reason why the coronavirus hit the U.S. so hard… despite warnings from others saying that smoking makes the effects of the coronavirus worse.
So they did a study…
And they found the COVID-19 infection rate among smokers was lower than it was for nonsmokers.
But before you rush out to buy a pack of Marlboros…
That’s not the whole story.
Smoke and Mirrors
The researchers found only 5% of those who tested positive smoked. But because roughly 30% of France’s population smokes, it appears the virus could be attacking nonsmokers more efficiently.
Here’s their theory…
Nicotine and COVID-19 bind to the same cell receptors. So if nicotine is already taking up space, then the virus has no room to bind to cells and invade.
Therefore, the authors wrote…
Current smokers have a very much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection as compared to the general population.
French smokers quickly embraced the theory… despite the lack of actual supporting evidence.
They liked what they heard and stocked up on their Gauloises by the carton.
The run on cigarettes was so widespread, the government actually had to intervene and limit the sale of tobacco products.
But there are major issues with the study’s results… not to mention the actual science behind these ridiculous claims.
With these survey-based studies, there’s a well-known issue called “social desirability bias.”
The patients in this French study were inside a hospital when they were asked about their smoking habits.
And when folks are left to self-report their behaviors inside the halls of a healthcare facility, they don’t have a good track record on reporting the truth…
People tend to minimize their unhealthy behaviors when talking to a doctor… especially when they’re in a hospital.
And it’s been documented for years that folks rarely tell the truth when reporting on their own smoking habits. Researchers out of Columbia University analyzed hospital data in 2016 and found only 3% of patients were documented as active smokers, while 36% were documented as “unknown” or had listed discrepancies in their smoking habits.
Then there’s the problem with their scientific explanation…
I’ll admit that on first blush, it does sound logical.
But what these researchers failed to note is that smokers have been shown to have more receptors for the virus to bind to. So even if there is some nicotine in the way, there’s plenty of room for the coronavirus to get in there.
That’s why in larger studies that didn’t rely on self-reporting, it was found that smokers were more likely to develop more severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Somehow, despite the flaws in this small-scale study, the researchers are planning to move forward and test their hypothesis in a randomized trial using nicotine patches.
With the healthcare industry working at “pandemic speed,” any hint of a breakthrough is sure to grab media headlines.
This breakneck pace is creating an information vacuum… and the media is running with story after story, regardless of how useful the research may be.
Some 16 million people in the U.S. are currently suffering from smoking-related illnesses. And smoking kills close to half a million people each year. But as soon as a new potential COVID-19 development ripples through the medical community, facts go out the window.
On that note, the researchers recently told Reuters in an interview that they didn’t want to encourage people to take up smoking due to the harmful effects. “That would be catastrophic,” they said.
I’d be curious to know what kind of response they thought their flawed study would trigger.
Have you changed your lifestyle or any habits to reduce your risk of COVID-19 infection? Drop us a line here.