French researchers are testing whether nicotine can protect people against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Due to recent encouraging data demonstrating a minority of hospitalized patients to be smokers, they will test nicotine patches on patients and front line healthcare workers to see if their virus susceptibility is decreased.
The Guardian reports that French researchers at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital interviewed 480 patients, 350 of whom needed hospitalization and 130, who were well enough to go home, and found only 4.4% of hospitalized patients infected with coronavirus were smokers. 1/4 of French citizens currently smoke.
They also report a Chinese study published at the end of March in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggested only 12.6% of 1,000 people infected with the virus were smokers while the number of smokers in China is around 28%.
Since this pandemic began, however, medical experts have been urging people to avoid smoking and vaping, feeling the lungs could be more suceptible to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by the COVID-19 virus.
Yet in light of hospital reports suggesting non-smokers to be more severely affected, researchers are theorizing that the nicotine in tobacco products may be instead protective.
A study by Changeux et al suggests:
Nicotine receptors may play a role in how the virus infects a host. They suggest that the virus could enter the body through neurons of the olfactory system and/or through the lung leading to different clinical features with different outcome, and contrasts with the currently accepted view that ACE2 is the principal receptor of SARS-CoV-2 for its entry into cells.
Study authors further state:
One should not forget that nicotine is a drug of abuse  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.
Some studies have found a relationship between smoking and decreased incidence of Parkinson’s disease, obesity and ulcerative colitis.
However risks of smoking and tobacco use include heart disease, respiratory failure, cancer, blood clots, and stroke…to name a few.
So it will take some time before the medical community will come to a consensus on smoking and SARS-CoV-2. But for now, researchers are fighting this silent killer with everything they’ve got so we may have to prepared and open minded that unconventional treatments may hold the key to winning this war.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.