How To Prevent Coronavirus? Start Smoking

Great find by Joe L:

…new study … claims that of the 1099 Chinese people who contracted 2019-nCoV which were studied, 85.4% (927 people) were never-smokers, while only 12.6% (137 people) were current smokers and only 1.9% (21 people) were ex-smokers.

Here’s a link to the pdf study. And here’s part of Table 1 from the study (click to enlarge):

According to the WHO:

More than half of all adult men in China are regular smokers.

According to the World Bank, the figure is 48%. It’s really only in the West that the figure is down around 15%. Eastern Europeans and Russians are heavy smokers. Seems the Chinese are too.

What might explain the comparative immunity of smokers? My first suggestion was that smokers in China who are already being forced to smoke outside are in effect being quarantined. But they’ll still be spending a lot of time with non-smokers, so it’s only a partial quarantine.

A better explanation might be that smokers have more mucus in their lungs than non-smokers, and it’s harder for a virus to get through this than with the thinner layers in non-smokers’ lungs.

The same may have been true during the Plague of 1665:

In 1665, London was rocked by an outbreak of bubonic plague. It was believed that the disease was spread by bad smells and invisible ‘miasmas’, so people used smoke to protect themselves. Tobacco was especially recommended to ward off the plague, and those tasked with disposing of the dead smoked a clay pipe to keep the disease at bay.

The bubonic plague was not a virus, but a bacterium – Yersinia pestis -, but if infection with the Plague entailed inhaling the bacteria, the thicker mucus in smokers’ lungs might well have been equally difficult for bacteria to penetrate.

Whatever the explanation, it rather looks as if smokers are afforded greater protection against the new coronavirus than non-smokers. Furthermore, when they do catch the virus, it seems that smokers generally get non=severe cases.

In which case, shouldn’t medical advice about preventing coronavirus infection include Start Smoking?

Perhaps it could be argued that the results of one study are insufficient to merit such advice. But if a whole set of studies show that smokers are genuinely be protected from coronavirus, shouldn’t that be the advice?

Using the above study’s figures, how much more likely are non-smokers to get 2019-nCoV than smokers?

Assuming that there is a population N1 (e.g. city of Wuhan) that are half smokers and half non-smokers, and that these supply patients to an infected subpopulation N2 (e.g. 1099 people), in which 85% are non-smokers and 15% are smokers, then the probability Pn of a non-smoker becoming infected is (0.85.N2)/(0.5.N1) , and the probability Ps of a smoker becoming infected is (0.15.N2)/(0.5.N1). And so non-smokers are Pn/Ps times more likely to become infected than smokers. Pn/Ps = 0.85/0.15 =  5.66.

I’ve lumped in smokers with ex-smokers. Using the exact figures of 85.4% for Pn and 14.6% for Ps, Pn/Ps = 5.85

So non-smokers are nearly 6 times more likely than smokers and ex-smokers to become infected.

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30 Responses to How To Prevent Coronavirus? Start Smoking

  1. Frank and Joe L, THANK you for focusing on this!
    Actually, I’ve been trying to always mention the increased risk of smoke-banned venues over smoking ones because of the air recirculation in the banned ones with no one being aware of it. I suggest that nonsmokers who might normally avoid the smoking pub in favor of the nonsmoking one should switch for the duration, and I point out the extreme danger posed by smoke-banned airplanes and airports in terms of disease spread.

    However, it occurred to me while reading this current report, that there’s at least an almost CERTAIN (though very small) “protection effect” involved with smoking quite aside from circulation! It is highly unlikely that the Coronavirus can survive temperatures of 600 to 900 degree Celsius. So smokers know that while they are actively smoking they are breathing at least a dozen or so mouthfuls of pure, clean, Corona-free Air! Plus, just as I’ve noted to nonsmokers, they’d be breathing nice innocent firsthand smoke instead of that “more dangerous” secondhand smoke, right?

    As noted, it would be a very minor factor, but it’s certainly real! Add in the FAR better ventilation/filtration setups for any smoking-allowed social venue today and I wouldn’t be at ALL surprised to see the “Chinese Smoker Paradox” repeated around the world! Don’t forget the 1994 Consumer Reports Cover Story on how “Airplane Air” quality took a huge nosedive in the years following the US-mandated smoking bans on all national and international flights that would touch down in US-owned territory. Aeroflot protested that they were Russian territory and had the right to make their own laws and rules and the U.S. just laughed at them and told them if they didn’t bend over and take it where we planted it, they could just forget about ever landing in the good ol’ US of A again. Sadly, the Russians and Aeroflot bent over and took it quietly.

    MJM, who believes there MAY be a few airlines in Japan or China that still allow smoking. It would be GREAT to get a study done on them during all this, wouldn’t it?

    • Tino Bridgeman says:

      I don’t like poking a hole in your theory, but many cigarettes these days are designed with little holes in the filter which you’d have to cover with your mouth – I don’t know how much of an effect it has, but it should unfortunately factor in nonetheless.

      As to China and inflight smoking, apparently, this isn’t a thing anymore:

      Japan, to my knowledge, has taken similar measures, although not government-mandated afaik. Korea certainly has.

      Also, as I can confirm from personal experience, China doesn’t allow you to have lighters about your person on any flight. They check rather thoroughly at security, and get quite nasty when they find one (didn’t know and the lady at security in Shanghai where I got my connection to Japan last year was rather cross with me – I wonder whatever happened to that family I met that got through with far more lighters than legally allowed because security in Germany just didn’t bother). In smoking areas at airports, they have locked-in lighters for you to light up, quite the ridiculous design.

      Something, however, which I’d find interesting is aboard the cruise ships with Corona Virus cases currently under quarantine. It isn’t like there’s a lot stopping anyone from smoking within the cabin; I wonder a) how many people smoke, b) how many people have (continued and sufficient) access to cigarettes, and c) how incidence cases compare among passengers respectively. I reckon there is a better chance at getting data, if ever that was investigated.

      • Good point about the air holes, although the effect would still be active — just somewhat diluted! The cruise ship situation could indeed be an important “natural laboratory” for testing theories about what factors affect spreading of airborne disease. Imagine if a ship had two nightclubs with one being totally smoke-banned but the other being completely Free-Choice and with an accompanying high level of ventilation.

        If my theory is correct (not so much the “air-purification through smoking”, but rather the degree of risk increase due to smoke-bans with lowered ventilation) we would see a greater number of cases among those passengers who religiously attended the banned nightclub when compared to those who hung out only at the smoking nightclub.

        Good luck trying to get a research grant to study such an effect though. Here in the US the tobacco companies were forced to shut down their smoking & health research efforts by the 1999 “Master Settlement Agreement,” and I’d imagine that even over in the UK and Europe, researchers getting tobacco grants are probably labeled as pariahs by the main university community.

        – MJM, pariah, prophet, or poodle? Your pick.

  2. Frank Davis says:

    So smokers know that while they are actively smoking they are breathing at least a dozen or so mouthfuls of pure, clean, Corona-free Air!

    As the microbiologist Legiron has often said: tobacco smoke is the purest air you can breathe.

  3. Rose says:

    This is a study Nightlight posted some years ago, perhaps Brigitte would see what she makes of it.

    Normal alveolar epithelial lining fluid contains high levels of glutathione.

    “The epithelial cells on the alveolar surface of the human lower respiratory tract are vulnerable to toxic oxidants derived from inhaled pollutants or inflammatory cells. Although these lung cells have intracellular antioxidants, these defenses may be insufficient to protect the epithelial surface against oxidants present at the alveolar surface
    “The total glutathione (the reduced form GSH and the disulfide GSSG) concentration of normal ELF was 140-fold higher than that in plasma of the same individuals, and 96% of the glutathione in ELF was in the reduced form.

    Compared with nonsmokers, cigarette smokers had 80% higher levels of ELF total glutathione, 98% of which was in the reduced form.”

    Studies of cultured lung epithelial cells and fibroblasts demonstrated that these concentrations of reduced glutathione were sufficient to protect these cells against the burden of H2O2 in the range released by alveolar macrophages removed from the lower respiratory tract of nonsmokers and smokers, respectively, suggesting that the glutathione present in the alveolar ELF of normal individuals likely contributes to the protective screen against oxidants in the extracellular milieu of the lower respiratory tract.”

    I found this today.

    Inhibition of influenza infection by glutathione.

    “In BALB/c mice, inclusion of GSH in the drinking water decreased viral titer in both lung and trachea homogenates 4 d after intranasal inoculation with a mouse-adapted influenza strain A/X-31. Together, the data suggest that the thiol antioxidant GSH has an anti-influenza activity in vitro and in vivo. Oxidative stress or other conditions that deplete GSH in the epithelium of the oral, nasal, and upper airway may, therefore, enhance susceptibility to influenza infection.”

    • beobrigitte says:

      Rose, brilliant find! Again, Thank you!!!
      Added to my more urgent list to find out if this has been further investigated recently.
      Infection by RNA virus induces oxidative stress in host cells. Accumulating evidence suggests that cellular redox status plays an important role in regulating viral replication and infectivity.

    • Thanks Rose! I echo beobrigitte’s praise!

  4. smokingscot says:

    Just checked the share price of the tobacco majors. JTI, BAT and even PMI all went up. However the prize goes to Imperial that put on 1.7% in 24 hours.

    Shares sell at almost £19, so it’s most likely institutional investors caused it.

    I’ll keep an eye on JTI because they’re big in Asia.

  5. Dirk says:

    Beobrigitte, So far no cases detected. I live in Indonesia (already 36 years here uninteruptedly, I am a permanent resident)
    Se also

  6. If anyone else sees any further mentions of this inverse smoking/virus-infection effect anywhere PLEASE make a note of it and get it back here to Frank’s blog. This is the sort of information that would be treated as pornographic heresy by Antismokers and I’m amazed the table showing that data was even allowed to be published! Heh, maybe somebody somewhere had the common sense to realize that a new worldwide plague might just POSSIBLY be worse than a bit of extra smoking.

    – MJM, who actually thinks it more likely that the inverse effect was so TOTALLY against their “religion” that a lot of researchers/editors/whatever simply didn’t “see” what the data in front of them was showing.

  7. kin_free says:

    This could be relevant;

    Scroll down to blog entry “Smoking – a simple way to prevent or cure swine flu”

    • Frank Davis says:

      From your link

      It is believed that ‘cytokine storms’ are one of the characteristics of swine flu where the vagus nerve fails to react correctly to the infection. Nicotine (and smoking) is thought to stimulate the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway and ‘kick start’ the vagus nerve into action, preventing an excessive immune response.

      Does coronavirus cause cytokine storms? Yes.

      THE LANCET’s recent publication entitled “Clinical features of patients infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China”, described the correlation of cytokine storm (high levels of circulating inflammatory cytokines) and the severity of illness in patients infected with the 2019-nCoV (2019 Novel Coronavirus).

      I think that’s a very good explanation why smokers tend to get mild versions of the nCoV infection: they don’t experience cytokine storms. It doesn’t seem to explain why they get infected so much less than non-smokers.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Kin_free, I’m sorry the link here:
      Art Ayers article on ‘Suite 101’ explains the smoking/swine flu/cytokine storms/ vagus nerve connections;
      no longer exists.

      This site can’t be reached’s server IP address could not be found.


      (Screen shot available)

      I would have loved to read this article! Was it similar to this?
      Results: Pretreatment with nicotine strongly alleviated severity of SAP-associated lung injury through attenuating serum amylase, lipase, and interleukin 6 levels; pancreas and lung pathological injury; lung myeloperoxidase activity; lung tumor necrosis factor-α; and high-mobility group box 1 expression. Inversely, vagotomy pretreatment resulted in an enhanced severity of pancreatitis and lung injury. Conclusions: Our results reveal the role of the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway in experimental SAP-associated lung injury; nicotine pretreatment exerts a protective effect and vagotomy pretreatment exerts the opposite effect.
      (Bold my emphasis)

      By 2013 it was decided:
      Methods such as direct stimulation of the vagus nerve, treatment with nicotine, and PAF-AH have proven to be effective in murine studies but are unsuitable for clinical use in humans.
      (Bold my emphasis)
      Bad news, men
      https ://
      Scientists believe that males could be more vulnerable to the coronavirus because they may have a weaker immune response to the disease, according to a column by The Financial Times.
      Enjoy a few cigarettes and ignore that smoking “could be” the reason this gender infection discrepancy is mentioned.
      I keep putting up a link to a non-peer reviewed paper that seems to make it’s way into the media. Perhaps now would be a good time to read it.

      Since some autoimmune disorders (more prevalent in women than men), e.g. Lupus, are associated with a cytokine storm (These cytokine storms differ!!! Look up the different cytokines!) perhaps nicotine could prevent worsening of these conditions?

  8. Rose says:

    Look what I’ve just found while searching your blog for swine flu, I’ve been looking for this for years.

    Framework Convention Alliance 2004

    FCTC Ratification Planning Worksheet

    1. Describe your advocacy objective as specifically as possible.

    Get your country to ratify the FCTC by December 31st 2004

    2. Who has the direct authority to make it happen [identify the target audience]

    4. What do they need to hear to persuade/cause/force them to make it happen?

    6. Who are the most effective messengers for our target audience? Who will the authorities most trust or listen to?

    Perhaps the Prime Minister, or a member of her family, has had successful surgery from a prominent heart or cancer surgeon.

    Perhaps the Health minister is particularly ambitious to be recognized and appreciated by the WHO Director General.”

    Rotten to the Core

    The whole thread is worth another read.

  9. Pingback: Nothing Skewed | Frank Davis

  10. Roger Knights says:

    Would vaping also offer protection? A November 2019 anti-vaping study from the University of Southern California (USC) said that its x-rays reveal that vapers lungs are coated with something, or anyway have changed how they look on an x-ray..

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