Covid 19: How harm reduction advocates and the tobacco industry capitalised on the pandemic to promote nicotine

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2021-06-09 14:00:04

Scientific papers suggesting that smokers are less likely to fall ill with covid-19 are being discredited as links to the tobacco industry are revealed, report Stéphane Horel and Ties Keyzer

In the early days of the pandemic, media outlets around the world reported that smokers seemed to be under-represented among patients seriously ill with covid-19 in China and France. The headlines asked, does nicotine protect against covid-19?

The origins of this hype were two preprints published in quick succession in April 2020 by a team at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, led by Zahir Amoura. The first found that only 5% of patients with covid-19 were smokers.1 Their second study hypothesised that nicotine might act on ACE2, the virus’s entry receptor. “Nicotine substitutes may provide an effective treatment for acute infections such as covid-19,” the authors argued.2

The stories made headlines worldwide. They were also picked up by libertarian media outlets such as the British online magazine Spiked. “Smoke fags, save lives,” encouraged Christopher Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, an industry sponsored think tank supported by the tobacco industry.

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