Smokers pleasantly surprised by a recent French study that found they might be less at risk from Covid-19 were given a reality check by Marios Loizou, the doctor who is front and centre of the health ministry’s daily briefing.
The French claims have since been debunked by a major study in the US, he said on Wednesday.
“There was an initial study from France which showed that smokers were not as represented in severe Covid-19 cases but there was a major study from the US which later showed the exact opposite,” the doctor said.
He said that it is likely that further studies will be carried out, particularly in France.
At the moment, he said: “it is as we expected, smoking does not grant any benefits against Covid-19.”
The Pasteur Institute in France reported in April that 7.2 per cent of smokers – among the adults tested – were infected while four times as many non-smokers, 28 per cent, were infected.
Among the general French population 32 per cent of people aged 18-75 are smokers, according to Sante Publique France.
The counter intuitive claims that smokers may be at less risk from a respiratory infection puzzled many.
The initial study suggested that a substance in tobacco, possibly nicotine, may help to prevent smokers from catching the virus.
The researchers stressed that they were not encouraging people to take up smoking.
While nicotine may help to protect against the virus, the smokers who are infected often develop more serious symptoms, they said.
Loizou did not name the specific US study to which he was referencing. He mentioned the study after Margarita Kyriacou, the health ministry spokesperson, asked at Wednesday’s press briefing if there were any further developments on the French claims.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who are immunosuppressed are at higher risk from Covid-19 and this includes smokers.
Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical advisor for the UK, said: “If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it.”
It appears that the British public have taken the scare seriously. According to a joint study between YouGov and the Action on Smoking and Health up to 300,000 people in the UK may have given up smoking during the pandemic.
Many smokers had enjoyed the initial French study, cracking jokes about its unlikely findings. One quipped on Facebook, “A pack a day keeps the doctor away.” But most felt the news was too good to be true, so are unlikely to be too despondent over the US study.