Question & Answer

Can smoking prevent infection or lessen the symptoms of COVID-19?

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  • Currently, there is no clear evidence that smoking tobacco cigarettes can prevent infection or lessen the symptoms of COVID-19.
  • In April 2020, an online article sparked claims on social and mainstream media that smoking may prevent COVID-19. This article proposed that a study should be carried out to explore whether the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), a receptor that nicotine (a substance found in tobacco) interacts with, has an effect on the COVID-19 virus.
  • There is currently no evidence that smoking can prevent or treat COVID-19 and the authors stress that smoking is a ‘serious danger for health’ and that nicotine is a ‘drug of abuse responsible for smoking addiction’.
  • The World Health Organization states that ‘COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases.’
  • The World Health Organization further states that the act of smoking itself, ‘increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth’ putting smokers at greater risk of catching COVID-19. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) reports that smokers are at ‘high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19’.
  • The Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) warns that a COVID-19 infection may, in fact, be more severe in those who smoke and that smoking can reduce an individual’s ‘natural protection against infections, like coronavirus’. Similarly, the independent Scottish smoking charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), suggests that ‘it is highly likely that smoking contributes to the severity of a COVID-19 infection’.
  • The best way to reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 is by following the advice on physical distancing and frequent hand washing.

Things to Remember

Reviewers

  • Lead Researcher: Dr Hannah Delaney, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, NUI Galway & Trinity College Dublin.
  • Reviewed by: Elaine Finucane, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, School of Nursing and Midwifery, NUI Galway.
  • Evidence Advisor: Prof Dearbháile Morris, School of Medicine, and Centre for One Health, NUI Galway.
  • Evidence Advisor: Anne Daly, PPI Ignite, NUI Galway.
  • Journalist Advisor: Dr Claire O’Connell, Contributor, The Irish Times.