Long before COVID-19 stampeded into our lives, researchers were puzzled over what’s known as “the smoker’s paradox.” Simply put, smokers who have heart attacks are more likely to survive their ordeal compared to non-smokers.
And now we have a brand new “smoker’s paradox” with coronavirus…
According to a WebMD report, smokers who develop COVID-19 are hospitalized at lower rates than non-smokers who contract the disease…
- In the U.S., where about 14 percent of the population smokes, a review of 7,000 hospitalized patients showed that less than 2 percent were current smokers and 2.3 percent were former smokers.
- In a similar study from Paris, among 350 hospitalizations due to coronavirus, only 4.4 percent were regular smokers.
- And in China, where about half of all men smoke, the rate of smokers hospitalized with COVID-19 ranged from 1.4 percent to 12.6 percent in 13 studies that included nearly 6,000 patients.
One potential explanation for this paradox notes that nicotine has anti-inflammatory properties. This might block the coronavirus mechanism that prompts the immune system overreaction responsible for the harshest cases of the disease.
Of course, it would be foolish to start smoking in response to this unexpected trend. But if you’re a current smoker intent on protecting your lungs, Dr. Marc Micozzi has this advice: No need to quit. But you should cut back…
Moderation is the key to smoking benefits
For anyone who’s surprised that a doctor would not recommend quitting smoking, Dr. Micozzi simply points to the science.
He says, “My own research with a top team of investigators at the NCI, using the largest long-term health database in the U.S., showed that the effects of light to moderate smoking are completely different from the results of heavy smoking or chain-smoking.”
But most research doesn’t reflect that because experts lump all smokers together, no matter how much they smoke or whether they smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars.
In Dr. Micozzi’s view, moderation is all-important because it applies to smoking, just as it does with every other realm of human biology and health.
In 1989, Dr. Micozzi and his research team published study results showing that people who smoke only half a pack of cigarettes a day or less have the same health profiles as nonsmokers.
“In fact,” he adds, “the light smokers were more likely to maintain healthier weights than non-smokers.”
Put this in your pipe…
Weight management isn’t the only health benefit linked to light smoking. Other benefits include:
- Lower risk of Parkinson’s disease
Many studies have shown that smokers develop Parkinson’s at far lower rates than non-smokers. The evidence also shows that the longer you smoke, the lower your Parkinson’s risk. But smokers who quit their habit have a greater risk of developing the disease.
- Reduced risk of knee-replacement surgery
In a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, men who smoked were less likely to undergo total joint replacement surgery compared to men who never smoked.
- Less likely to die of a heart attack
I briefly mentioned this earlier, but smokers also respond better than non-smokers to two types of treatments that reduce artery plaque: fibrinolytic therapy and angioplasty.
And Dr. Micozzi adds one more check in the plus column for smokers: relaxation. He says, “My data shows that there may be some benefits to sitting back, taking time out, and relaxing with an occasional smoke (especially a cigar or pipe) and/or alcoholic beverage. Relaxation is key in today’s stress-filled world.”
“Smokers Hospitalized Less Often for COVID-19” WebMD News Brief, 4/29/20. (https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200430/smokers-hospitalized-less-often-for-covid-19)
“5 Health Benefits of Smoking” Live Science, 7/19/11. (https://www.livescience.com/15115-5-health-benefits-smoking-disease.html)