New research contradicts previous findings on smoking and Covid-19. Smokers lose a silver lining everywhere.


Think about the smokers. Last year, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, researchers – first in France, then later in China and India – published studies that indicated that smokers were at lower risk of contracting Covid, and when they did, they had less severe symptoms. In France, there was reportedly a rush of nonsmokers to tobacco shops in hopes of getting a little extra protection. For smokers everywhere, there was finally a justification here – both for themselves and for those who were shunned because of the smell and cloud of carcinogens they spread – to take another drag. Unfortunately, they have now been deprived of the only silver lining that pierced the mist and tar all too briefly.

A recent study in England compiled observational and genetic data on Covid-19 and tobacco use and found that smokers are about 80 percent more likely to be hospitalized after contracting the virus than those who have never smoked. Some of the scientists have questioned the earlier studies, claiming that some of the researchers have links to the tobacco industry.

Unsurprisingly, the disappointment among tobacco addicts is palpable. Unlike other substances – alcohol, marijuana, and more notorious narcotics – smoking doesn’t really get you high. The social cost of addiction is barely proportionate to pleasure – rail and air travel make you jonesing, you are shunned into dark corners outside of bars and sometimes even from your own home to meet the need without bothering others. All of this while burning a huge hole in your pocket and slowly but surely watching your health deteriorate. From France, the birthplace of existentialism, there was hope that smoking would make sense. England, the birthplace of utilitarianism, has lost this hope.

This editorial appeared for the first time in the print edition on September 29, 2021 under the title “In smoke”.

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