On the one hand, this is excellent. As an ex-smoker, I’ve always wanted the excuse to go down and get 20 camel blues from the local shop. And now, for the first time in my life, I can tell my mother I’m doing it for the good of my health:
Frontline health workers and patients in France may be given nicotine patches after studies found that four times fewer smokers contracted Covid-19 than non-smokers.
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.
On the other hand, of course, I could just take cyanide to help stop me from being infected by the Coronavirus. Sure, it mightn’t be good for me in the long term, but I’d definitely avoid infection.
What are the reasons for these findings, though? We don’t know, but it’s fun to speculate. The range of possibilities ranges from deeply boring to quite fun, though, of course, the “deeply boring” one is probably the more accurate.
It’s probably just something as simple as the fact that most smokers are highly aware that because they’re smokers, they have weak lungs. Many of them are likely to have higher susceptibility to respiratory illnesses in general. When yours truly was a 20 a day man, for example, I used to get the cold 40 times worse than my non-smoking friends. As a result, smokers tend to be more careful about these things in general. When you broadcast – as most Governments did – in the early stages, that weak lungs increase your risk of death, people with weak lungs will be more careful.
It’s entirely possible, therefore, that most of these figures are down to something as banal as smokers being people who paid more attention to social isolation in the early stages of the pandemic.
Of course, there’s also the less boring explanation, which is that something in the cigarettes repulses the coronavirus. That could be nicotine, but it could be almost anything else either. Maybe it’s the tar-coating in the lungs that the virus can’t pass through to access the cells. Maybe it’s the smoke itself, and reduced oxygen levels. We don’t know.
What we do know is that today, for once, smokers can turn around to everybody else and say “well, I’m okay – I’ve been looking after my health with the help of the good people at Marlboro”.
They’ve waited a long time to be able to say that. We won’t begrudge them.