Viral ‘nicotine coronavirus protection’ report spreads dangerous misinformation

Chris Burns - Apr 30, 2020, 11:57am CDT
Viral ‘nicotine coronavirus protection’ report spreads dangerous misinformation

Claims that smoking cigarettes with nicotine could protect against COVID-19 have been reported by several media outlets, despite a significant lack of lab testing. Smoking has, on the other hand, been the subject of extensive lab testing which confirms risks to human health. What’s more, recent messaging from the National Institute of Drug Abuse warned against the use of tobacco, marijuana, and other smoking (and vaping) due to it’s potential for increasing the likelihood that users could get sick and/or die from novel coronavirus/COVID-19.

Smoking during quarantine was warned against in comments earlier this year from Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Volkow also warned that substance abuse and other substance use disorders could be hit significantly harder by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 as this global pandemic unfolds.

Who claimed nicotine stopped coronavirus?

Information on the possibility that nicotine could assist in stopping SARS-CoV-2 comes from an unrated, not-peer-reviewed paper in preprint posted to Qeios. This paper A nicotinic hypothesis for Covid-19 with preventive and therapeutic implications** does not suggest that any person smoke in order to prevent COVID-19. The paper also makes clear that they’re presenting a hypothesis, not results that suggest smoking cigarettes or wearing nicotine patches will stop COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2. The title of the paper was twisted to create a news story with viral sharing potential – that’s about the extent of the situation.

Per a report from Health Feedback this week, claims that “smoking might protect against COVID-19” and promotions of “smoking as a preventative measure against COVID-19” have been shared (and spread in a big way) on Facebook in late April, 2020. “Such claims are currently going viral with more than 410,000 interactions on Facebook in April 2020.”

Basically the opposite is true

**The study that started this whole twisting of data and misinformation cited another study, Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China.* That study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and provides a metric which would imply corralation (but not causation) between smokers and the relatively small percentage of those studied for positive COVID-19 tests that were also smokers.

As noted by Ankit Patel, Nephrologist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “The Guan et al. study in the New England Journal of Medicine that noted 12.6% of patients from China with COVID-19 were active smokers* failed to mention that a higher percentage of patients that did not survive or meet the primary endpoint were smokers, suggesting potential risk from smoking.”

A set of quotes and comments from medical professionals are posted in a Health Feedback (linked above) article this week on the subject, all warning against the suggestion that smoking can prevent or stop COVID-19. If you see a friend or relative sharing a story about how nicotine and/or smoking could prevent or stop COVID-19, novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, or other diseases or infections, point them in the right direction!


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