In the frantic race to find something, anything, to treat or prevent Coronavirus, medical researchers have essentially resorted to throwing every idea that comes to mind at the issue and seeing what sticks. As one might expect, this has had some wacky results – but one in particular is raising both eyebrows and hopes: nicotine. As it turns out, COVID-19 isn’t hitting smokers nearly as hard as expected, leading some to wonder: Is Coronavirus getting smoked by nicotine? More importantly, can this be used to treat the illness safely?
Now at this point, it’s critical to clarify something up front: No actual doctor is saying, “you know what? We were wrong; smoking is healthy, after all.” Air is the natural medium of the human lungs, not smoke, vape, or any other chemical cocktail a person might inhale. Tobacco is still believed to kill more people than any other consumed substance. Smoking does tend to make most respiratory issues worse rather than better, so don’t take up the habit just to stave off Coronavirus. But with that disclaimer out of the way, nicotine itself is the substance suspected of easing certain COVID-19 symptoms, and – should this turn out to be a viable treatment – it can be delivered in far less harmful ways than by smoking or chewing tobacco.
Smoking Out the Facts
A lot of people smoke. A lot of people have been hospitalized for COVID-19. But these two observable facts don’t share quite the relationship you might expect. As it turns out, smokers are underrepresented. Over half of Chinese men smoke, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about a third of the world’s cigarettes get burned up in China. But here’s the smoking gun, if you’ll forgive the obvious pun: Very few of those hospitalized for Coronavirus symptoms in that country seem to be smokers.
A similar situation has been observed in France. An estimated 25% of the population smokes, but only 5.3% of Coronavirus patients have been recorded as smokers. New York seems to conform somewhat to this trend as well.
Where There’s Smoke …
Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire, as the old saying goes. Greek cardiologist and tobacco harm-reduction specialist Konstantinos Farsalinos believes that nicotine – not tobacco itself, just that one chemical – is either preventing people from catching COVID-19 or easing some of the more severe symptoms. He isn’t alone, though ideas about exactly how nicotine helps vary widely.
Dr. Farsalinos hypothesizes that nicotine has some anti-inflammatory effects. The worst symptoms of this illness seem to come not from the virus itself, but the body’s overreacting to its presence – a phenomenon called a cytokine storm. During this storm, the immune system targets the infection, often in the lungs. The lungs then become inflamed, leading to difficulty breathing. Contrary to what many may believe, this isn’t all that crazy of a suggestion. Several studies have shown positive effects of nicotine. Smokers tend to have a lower incidence of some inflammatory and neurological diseases, and isolated nicotine has been shown to improve memory and treat mild cognitive impairment.
French researchers have a different idea of how nicotine might prove useful as a treatment – though it follows a similar logic. The angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2, is the receptor that most believe Coronavirus latches onto in order to enter human cells. The French, however, believe that it has also been infecting cells through the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, or nAChRs. These exist in the lungs and olfactory system and, as the name suggests, typically bind nicotine. If these researchers are correct, then smokers and vapers might actually benefit, in this case, from a sort of cellular traffic jam, where Coronavirus just can’t get through as often as it otherwise might.
While researchers are working out trials to test these ideas, it is probably best to remain somewhat skeptical. Other things might actually be behind these observations. For example, it could well be that, in the confusion of the pandemic, hospitals are accidentally misreporting. If this is the case, it could either be due to incomplete reporting from the hospitals themselves or because not all of the patient medical background forms are getting completed. Perhaps it’s some other chemical entirely in the tobacco that is providing the benefit – not nicotine.
Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke it!
In any case, it’s certainly worth looking in to, and the nanny state hasn’t exactly been helpful in that regard. Nicotine is oft conflated with tobacco – despite being present in other plants and non-tobacco vaping fluids – and it tends to be demonized along with smoking. There is evidence – as anecdotal as much of it may be – that vaping, chewing gum, and using patches have helped many a smoker kick the unhealthy habit. Yet government-funded health agencies around the world have advised all consumers of nicotine to give it up entirely since the outbreak began.
The FDA had vaping in its sights long before Coronavirus was on anyone’s radar and has stated that vapers were at an elevated risk of developing complications tied to COVID-19. Even before the seemingly odd relationship between nicotine and Coronavirus was reported, the FDA was forced to admit that it had no actual evidence to back up the increased risk claim. If nicotine does indeed prove to be a viable treatment or preventative for COVID-19, it’ll be just one more reason to hope the nanny state goes up in smoke.
Read more from James Fite.
For home study students and young people, Liberty Nation recommends…
All About the Coronavirus
High School: The Spread of Coronavirus: How It Works
Middle School: A Scientific Look at COVID-19
Elementary School: Coronavirus: The Science
All About the Government Response to Coronavirus
High School: White House Acts on Coronavirus
Middle School: Trump Takes Action on Coronavirus
Elementary School: Trump Versus Coronavirus