France recently put limits on the purchase nicotine-replacement products, stopping online sales and restricting buyers to a one-month supply of gums, patches and inhalers bought at pharmacies. The limits have nothing to do with the products’ usefulness or safety – these are well established. They have been put in place to stop people stockpiling them following news that nicotine may play a role in combating COVID-19.
There are a number of reasons nicotine is beginning to be explored in this context, but as with everything about the new coronavirus, much remains unknown.
At the outset of the pandemic, smoking was identified as a risk factor for COVID-19, with the expectation that the same pattern would be seen as with other respiratory illnesses, namely, that smoking would increase the chance of getting infected and of having worse outcomes once infected. But some studies have suggested that people who smoke may be at less risk from COVID-19.
So far, no one is sure if this is true. Different studies find conflicting patterns. And in those that find less COVID-19 infection in people who smoke, it is unclear if this is because of a genuine effect or because of issues with analyses or reporting.
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