Does Nicotine protect against the Covid-19 Virus?
I was recently invited to an online 'webinar' hosted by the New Nicotine Alliance and featuring Dr Farsalinos MD, who some of you may be aware of already. His peer reviewed research around nicotine and vaping has been extremely valuable to the community since 2011. He is now one of the first people in the world to look at the mounting data and produce his own research suggesting that nicotine may have protective properties against COVID-19.
I was aware of this suggestion quite a while back when a friend shared a news story on Facebook with the sarcastic comment “I guess we should all start smoking then?” As someone who consumes nicotine daily without smoking, I thought I would read the actual article rather than write it off as nonsense. It was a story related to ongoing research in France which showed some surprising data that couldn't really be explained, or at least wasn't what you might expect. Rather than smokers being adversely effected by COVID-19, the data suggested the opposite. Was it the nicotine or something else?
During the Webinar, Dr Farsalinos went over his thoughts and research so far, which I will attempt to condense into some of the key points from the hour-long talk and Q&A. I am neither a Medical Research Fellow or a Doctor, and the video was quite jargon heavy, so I suggest you watch the full recording on YouTube (which will be linked to at the end) to get the whole picture. Before I get into that, it's important to say that this is ongoing medical research and it's absolutely not a suggestion that anyone should start taking nicotine, and I absolutely do not want to encourage people to start smoking! However, the evidence at the moment is surprising and very interesting.
The story starts in China, China has one of the highest smoking rates in the world. Over 50% of men smoke in China and over 27% across the whole population, yet when the numbers of hospitalised patients with COVID-19 were released in March only 12.6% of them were reported to be smokers. After looking at more statistics released up until April, Dr Farsalinos concluded that the percentages of smokers being hospitalised in China with COVID-19 were a ¼ of what they should be based on the number of smokers in the population. That's 75% lower than one might logically expect. That clearly needed further investigation.
Different research groups around the world were also noticing that something strange was happening with smokers. Some found that contrary to expectation, smokers didn't appear to have an increased risk of being hospitalised from the virus, and others suggested the numbers of positive test cases were lower in smokers. It's obvious that something as harmful as smoking cannot be suggested as a prevention method, so this led the research team to wonder what it was about smoking that could be causing the effect. It seemed the answer would likely be nicotine. There's a lot of detail in the video as why that might be the case, but too much for me to go into here.
There's also evidence that while hospitalised smokers are lower in number, those who are hospitalised are more likely to suffer 'an adverse outcome' than recover. Which sounds like something we might expect, but as Dr Farsalinos says, what is the first thing that happens when someone is hospitalised suffering from a respiratory illness? They of course stop smoking, which means they have an immediate end to their nicotine intake and within hours they will no longer have any nicotine in their system. If their hypothesis is correct, then of course any benefits they may have been getting from the nicotine will vanish within hours.
Unfortunately, nicotine still has such a bad image that even within medical fields, Dr Farsalinos has been facing opposition for wanting to carrying out trials of nicotine in the case of COVID-19. Despite some resistance he is making progress in starting clinical trials, especially as the evidence grows.
There are no studies currently on vapers and COVID-19 but if these benefits are from nicotine, then the inhalation of vapour containing clean pharmaceutical nicotine would be an effective way of delivering it directly to the lungs. If Dr Farsalinos is correct then he even suggests that in hospitals it could be delivered most effectively through a nebuliser, but without a clinical trial this is still only theoretical.
What it does show though is that once again, nicotine needs to be separated from smoking so we can have a sensible conversation about it. There is evidence that nicotine could help with Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's too. It's also clear that many of the studies and research findings are paid for and promoted by people with an agenda, distorted by the press and by the time it gets to the general public nothing is quite as it seems.
If you are interested in this subject then I would encourage you to watch the full hour-long video, that you can find here.
I would also suggest checking out the homepage of the New Nicotine Alliance, who are leading the way when it comes to tobacco harm reduction and will keep you up to date with all current research.
You can also find their YouTube channel here.
I'll finish off here by saying that my thoughts are with anyone who has lost friends or family to this dreadful virus. I also know that not everyone will agree with Dr Farsalinos' hypothesis, however that doesn't mean that it's not something that should be further investigated or talked about without politics or emotions taking over. It's science and public health and when so many lives are at stake, it can't be ignored.
Keep safe and take care out there.
Simon - My Vape Box