Smoking helps COVID? Or is it the lack of obesity?

Posted on May 4, 2020

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2020)

There are many different theories in many different buckets going around with this virus. I’m certainly not going to, nor in a position, to address them all.

One which I do want to very briefly address is the smoking one. Long story short, there is now debate going on about whether smoking can HELP.

As I’ve mentioned, virologists are going to get very technical with this trying to tease out the meaning of every association, as they should.

But I was alarmed reading these headlines because, even though the articles explicitly state an argument is not being made to start smoking, we all know that’s not how this is going to be received by everybody. If nothing else, I’m sure many have been debating quitting smoking now i.e. taking better care of themselves, and are now thinking “Wait, should I keep smoking?”

I’m not even going to go in-depth with this, such as linking the original study first giving credence to this idea, where it has gone, etc. I can already feel the arm chair immunologist in me coming out, and I’m not going to play that game.

All I want to say is for those of us who have worked with weight-loss clients, it’s a well known phenomenon there is a connection between smoking and bodyweight. Namely, that when you quit, you tend to gain weight.

Furthermore, you don’t tend to see smokers who are also obese.

This is the best, simplest, albeit old, study that I found, during an admittedly quick look just to get some rough numbers:

Smoking, obesity, and their co-occurrence in the United States: cross sectional analysis

Results:

“23.5% of adults were obese, 22.7% smoked, and 4.7% smoked and were obese.”

(Here’s a more recent study saying much the same, in a fancier manner.)

Again, you just don’t get a lot of people who smoke and are obese. You can go down quite a rabbit hole trying to figure out why, but that’s beyond the point here.

The point: remember how much we’re finding our health related to our physical fitness e.g. hypertension, obesity, diabetes, is related to COVID hospitalizations.

Is COVID-19 an assault on the out of shape American?

So, the “protection” smoking could be providing is simply that in some ways, RELEVANT TO COVID-19, smokers could be in better health, yet smoking might be irrelevant. It just might be the demographics of smokers is what matters.

That wouldn’t mean don’t stop or start smoking. It would mean lose weight.

To be clear, I don’t know what it means. Maybe a cigar really is the best medicine right now. But we all have to make a bet. I’m betting not smoking is better for one’s health, even right now, than not. In other words, I’m not going to start smoking. But I’m also acutely aware of my weight if I’m a person who is quitting right now.

I saw one headline about how many people have quit smoking since this all started, in theory because of how much the pandemic has made one think about their health. If true, there should probably be a campaign to commend these people, while also borderline yelling at them to not substitute smoking for cookies.

Finally, it’s quite interesting to think a pandemic could, possibly, make society healthier longterm. If millions stop smoking, in the longterm, do we end up saving more lives than COVID kills?

For anybody in human health research struggling to come up with a PhD thesis, at this point, you should be covered for a lifetime.

And that’s my glass half full comment of the day.

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