As part of the state’s vaccination schedule, smokers in Illinois have been included in the list of residents considered high-risk, which alongside seniors and essential workers, are currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as per the move to Phase 1B+ gone into effect on February 25th.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), being a “current or former cigarette smoker” puts one at a greater risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms. “The smokers are much more vulnerable than normal people because the smoking would compromise your immune system fighting against infections and bacteria,” said Dr. Samuel Kim, a thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“Nicotine is an addictive drug. Instead of thinking of this as a habit and more as an addiction, then I think more people will be understanding of this decision,” Kim said. However, in contrast to Kim’s argument, data from across the globe have consistently shown that the consumption of nicotine may act as a protective factor against contracting the virus.

Nicotine as a protective factor against COVID-19

The daily smokers rate amongst COVID-19 patients was at 5.3%, whilst amongst the general population, the daily smokers rate was at 25.4%.

A study conducted in a large French university hospital, between March and April 2020, aimed to determine the possible correlation of daily smoking, with the susceptibility of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 infection. The researchers had estimated the rates of daily current smokers among COVID-19-infected patients and compared them to the rates of daily current smokers within the general French population, after controlling the data for sex and age.

The compiled data had indicated that the daily smokers’ rate amongst COVID-19 patients was at 5.3%, whilst within the general French population, the rate of daily smokers rate was of 25.4%. These findings had led the researchers to conclude that daily smokers have a significantly lower probability of developing symptomatic or a severe SARS-CoV-2 infection, when compared to the general population.

Less smokers (than non-smokers) are found among hospitalized COVID-19 patients

In line with this, back in March, renowned anti-smoking researcher Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos and two colleagues, had analyzed data coming out of China, where it was widely speculated that the higher hospitalization and death rates among Chinese men was due to gender differences in smoking rates. However, Farsalinos found that there were significantly less smokers among hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Similarly, another review of the Chinese data published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine had concluded that “active smoking does not apparently seem to be significantly associated with enhanced risk of progressing towards severe disease in COVID-19.”

Subsequently, similar patterns started emerging around the world. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that smokers represented just 1.3% of COVID-19 cases analyzed, while America’s adult smoking rate is at 13.7%.

Norwegian health institute removed smoking as a risk factor for Covid

In response to these figures, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health had removed smoking as a risk factor for severe coronavirus symptoms in mid-April. While back in France, more research was launched to investigate whether nicotine patches could play a protective role against COVID-19.

A recent press release by Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP) explained that nicotine inhibits penetration of the virus and its propagation in cells, and therefore nicotine could play a prophylactic (preventative) role against COVID-19, and announced further research into the topic.

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