Coronavirus: Can smoking protect against COVID-19? Shocking study supports claim

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that can badly affect the lungs. Smoking is harmful in every way possible, but new research says the bad habit may protect people from COVID-19.

Leading infectious disease expert at University College London, Professor Francois Balloux, said there is “bizarrely strong” evidence for the claim.

One study by America’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) examined over 7,000 people who tested positive for COVID-19.

Surprisingly, only 1.3 percent of them were smokers, compared to the CDC report that 14 percent of all Americans smoke.

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Chinese studies have shown that the majority of COVID-19 patients were non-smokers.

Researchers from New York University, and the University of West Attica in Greece, analysed 13 Chinese reports.

Across the whole sample of 5,300 patients, only 6.5 percent were smokers.

“This preliminary analysis does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalisation for COVID-19,” the researchers began.

“Instead, these consistent observations, which are further emphasised by the low prevalence of current smoking among COVID-19 patients in the US (1.3 per cent), raises the hypothesis that nicotine may have beneficial effects on COVID-19.”

However, the analysis does hold some limitations. For instance, the research paper hasn’t been reviewed by other scientists – yet.

And the data is still limited. The researchers admitted: “The accuracy of the recorded smoking status needs to be determined.”

Professor Balloux came across the research paper and commented: “Whilst the study design is far from perfect – and the authors are clear about its limitations – the evidence for a protective effect of smoking (or nicotine) against COVID-19 is bizarrely strong.”

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Shockingly, Mr Balloux added: “Actually far stronger than for any drug trialled at this stage.”

Some medical experts aren’t convinced, magnifying one of the study’s pitfalls.

University College London Professor Brown told MailOnline: “It’s difficult to assess how well smoking status has been recorded in an emerging epidemic.

“Lots of these people have been too sick to answer or have not replied totally honestly.”

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A former NHS doctor, and medicine lecturer at the University of East Anglia, agreed.

He said: “One interpretation is that smokers are less likely to end up in hospital.

“But, actually, it’s more of an indication that when you’ve got doctors who are unbelievably busy they don’t complete all of the questioning they would normally do.”

And one researcher flat-out dismissed the idea entirely.

Jason Sheltzer, who works for Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in New York, said: “I don’t think that there’s any convincing evidence that smoking protects against coronavirus.”

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) states around 7.2 million people in the UK smoke cigarettes.

Although this has been a five percent decline since 2011, it’s still a fairly significant number of people who still engage with the habit.

The NHS is steadfast in its conviction that “every cigarette you smoke is harmful”.

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