On April 23-24, websites Hotnews.ge, videosport.ge and wnews.ge published articles with misleading headlines claiming that nicotine protects against coronavirus. “Cigarette blocks coronavirus: the discovery of the century; what is contained in tobacco that protects organism against viruses – new scientific study” – this is how wnews.ge headlined the article. Hotnews.ge offered the following wording: “Nicotine will protect you against coronavirus – new scandalous study.”
Articles with identical headlines went viral in social networks. For example, the article published by wnews.ge was shared by Facebook group „გაიხალისე ცხოვრება ツ(Enjoy Life). The post has triggered a lot of reactions. It has about 500 likes, over 200 comments and up to 700 shares.
It is noted in the texts of the articles that the information about nicotine allegedly protecting against coronavirus is a hypothesis. The opinion is based on the trial conducted in French hospitals and it has no scientific justification. Spreading unverified information affirmatively represents manipulation that aims at attracting readers and may cause harm to their health.
Hotnews.ge, videosport.ge and wnews.ge is based on the French study, according to which smokers may be much less at risk of contracting the virus. Simultaneously, British newspaper The Guardian writes that this opinion is not based on any scientific research; rather it is the result of studying COVID-19 patients in French hospitals. The team at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital questioned 480 patients who tested positive for the virus, 350 of whom were hospitalized while the rest with less serious symptoms were allowed home. It found that of those admitted to hospital, whose median age was 65, only 4.4% were regular smokers. Among those released home, with a median age of 44, 5.3% smoked. Figures from Paris hospitals showed that of 11,000 patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, 8.5% were smokers.
However, the French researchers admit that smokers are more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases. Therefore, the risk of death from COVID-19 is higher among people with chronic diseases. Thus, the researchers are not encouraging the population to take up smoking in order to protect themselves against coronavirus.
Georgian immunologist Maia Butsashvili responded to the information about the links between nicotine and coronavirus through her Facebook post, saying that it is impossible to make a firm conclusion based on the results of questioning COVID-19 patients in French hospitals.
Maia Butsashvili: “It was reported that smokers are much less at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. It is very dangerous to claim this so thoughtlessly, because people may understand it wrongly and take up smoking. Actually, the information published by the French source that has triggered such assumptions is not based on any biological/basic research. It is simply the result of questioning patients in hospitals and no firm conclusion can be made on its basis. On the contrary, we should not forget (and by the way, the authors of the research also note) that smokers are more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases, whereas the fact that the risk of death from COVID-19 is higher among people with chronic diseases is beyond any doubts.
About the sources
Hotnews.ge is a Georgian online edition, which was registered in 2017. The website provides no information about the organization, or its editorial board. It spread conspiracy theories and fake news about the coronavirus in March as well.
n.videosports.ge is a sport news website, which periodically spreads materials with sensational headlines. According to registrator.ge, the website is owned by Barsamania LLC.
Clickbait websites try to draw readers’ attention with attractive headlines and photos and most likely, by visiting such websites, readers help their owners earn money. Such websites offer tabloid content, 18 plus ads and sensational headlines.
Prepared by Eto Glurjidze
Myth Detector Lab