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Nicotine likely to help against coronavirus: French study

Paris: According to a French study conducted recently, nicotine has been found to likely help a person against coronavirus. The new study attempts to rule out every other analysis done in the past by health agencies and other bodies like the World Health Organization which considers tobacco as a risk factor in getting infected by the coronavirus.

For all we know, smoking tobacco is a health hazard and causes various diseases if not ceased. It results in heart diseases, respiratory issues including lung damage, COPD, pneumonia, and also malignancies. But, the French study says that in spite of continuing to be a threat for other health problems, it seems to fight against the novel coronavirus. As shocking as it may sound, the study conducted shows it to be so.

The France government had to restrict the rapid sales of cigarettes after this paper was released. As much as only a month’s supply was allowed to be bought by each person.

Even when a quarter of the French adults smoke, only 5% of the 482 COVID-19 patients who came to the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris between February 28th and April 9th were daily smokers. The percentile of the smokers varies among different countries but a similar ratio was found elsewhere too. The ratio differed in various parts of France itself but the number of smokers infected with coronavirus were found to be less. “Smokers are much less likely to suffer from coronavirus,” said the authors of the study while also adding that such a result is rare in medicine.

Smokers are almost certainly not protected from initial infection by sars-cov-2, the virus that causes COVID 19. They might, in fact, be more susceptible to it as they hold the cigarette and puff on it and the transmission often takes place through the mouth’s mucous membranes. The thing which seems to be happening is that smokers who are already infected with the virus are less likely to develop symptoms and even if they do, they develop milder symptoms than the infected non-smokers. This means they are more likely to stay home and not to show up in hospital statistics.

For this to be true there needs to be a protective layer of some sort to be preventing the infection of coronavirus. Nicotine seems to be this protective layer. It is binding to the ACE-2 receptor present on the surface of the cells. This is the same receptor to which coronavirus binds and injects itself into the cell. So, as the nicotine is binding to the same receptor, there seems to be a bit of a clash where coronavirus finds it difficult to do so alongside nicotine. Nicotine may also soothe inflammation caused by the infection, a hypothesis supported by its use to treat inflamed bowels.

The new French study, which is expected to begin within 3 weeks, is also aiming to find the other therapeutic aspect of nicotine. In patients severely infected with COVID-19, a process called cytokine storm takes place. Cytokines are the bodies that help protect the human body against the harmful pathogens entering it by guiding the natural killer cells present in the white blood cells to go to an area of infection. During a cytokine storm, they might send a lot of white blood cells where these WBCs get confused and start attacking its own body cells and results in an autoimmune condition that accelerates the severity of coronavirus in the body.

Jason Sheltzer, a molecular biologist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in New York state, who studies the physiological effects of cigarette smoke, says it is theoretically possible that nicotine, which interferes with this process, may lessen the damage, though his research also points to significant negative effects of cigarette smoke on coronavirus infections.

Campaigners who are against smoking are in a heist to prove that this is no excuse to take up smoking. If a few lucky COVID-19 patients have survived it being smokers, it doesn’t mean that it could be seen with others as well. This, however, is not enough to conduct studies to prove the nicotine effect because if it is proved to be true, a global pandemic can be controlled.

Differences in the present study can also not be ignored. There might have been a selection bias where the hospital patients were less likely to be daily smokers than the general population. They might have quit smoking recently, after the WHO guidelines but were regarded as non-daily smokers in the study. Second, called a social-desirability bias can also take place. This happens when the patients deny being smokers even if they are, just to be seen as someone doing the right thing in the eyes of the healthcare providers. Which patients were asked about their smoking habits and which ones weren’t is also the question. This inaccurate data might also produce disturbances in the result of the study.

Acknowledging that the study is being done at a rapid speed because of the pandemic is also important. Usually, such studies take many months to come to a conclusion. But given these situations, it is difficult to process things slowly but also not entirely right to regard this as the undeniable truth. Other studies are on the way to show more clarity on the role of nicotine on the coronavirus. Any misinterpretations cannot be made as had been done with Hydroxycholorquine which was claimed to be the ultimate cure by politicians.

As for the nicotine effects, intense research and critical acclaims are required because after all, smoking still kills.