“Nicotine, a protective agent against Covid-19”? The tobacco industry funded researchers

“Nicotine, a protective agent against Covid-19”? The tobacco industry funded researchers
“Nicotine, a protective agent against Covid-19”? The tobacco industry funded researchers

Do you remember that study on nicotine that appeared at the start of the pandemic? She claimed that smokers were less likely to get sick from Covid-19. It is a renowned team, that of the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, in Paris, which was at the origin of two preprints, published one after the other, in April 2020.

One of the studies led by Professor Zahir Amoura, head of the internal medicine service at this Parisian institution, revealed that only 5% of symptomatic patients with Covid-19 were smokers on a daily basis. The other hypothesized that nicotine could be a protective agent against infection with SARS-CoV-2. Among the authors of the latter, Professor Jean-Pierre Changeux, world-renowned neurobiologist, specialist in nicotinic receptors.

Since then, this hypothesis has been categorically denied. On the contrary, smoking has been recognized as an additional risk factor for Covid-19.


At the beginning of this month of June, two investigative journalists, Stéphane Horel for The world, and Ties Keyzer, for The Investigative Desk, revealed the financial links between some of the authors of these articles and the tobacco industry. These journalists published their research in the British Medical Journal.

First of all, they showed that Jean-Pierre Changeux, retired professor at the Collège de France, had received funding from the tobacco industry from 1995 to 1997, via the Council for Tobbaco Research, in order to achieve research on the positive effects of nicotine. Contacted by the authors of this investigation, the neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux replied that it was a “sensitive question (which) unfortunately gave rise to” false news “about me”, assuring that he had not received any funding related “directly or to the tobacco industry” since the 1990s.

Fees and conflicts of interest

Horel and Keyzer also highlighted the role of a Greek researcher, Konstantinos Farsalinos, the first to publish on the topic “tobacco and Covid”, with a pre-publication highlighting “the relatively low prevalence of current smoking” in patients hospitalized for Covid-19. According to investigative reporters, Farsalinos received honoraria for two studies from the American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association, a trade association of manufacturers that supports the development of electronic cigarettes. Konstantinos Farsalinos also says, according to reporters, to have revealed funding from the Tennessee Smoke Free Association, Flavor Art and Nobacco, manufacturers of liquids and electronic cigarettes.

On Twitter, the doctor replied that “all claims made by journalists about undisclosed conflicts of interest and links to the tobacco industry are falseHe responds to journalistic criticism in an article where he in turn counterattacks by accusing journalists of so-called conflicts of interest, on the grounds that they are funded by the University of Bath and the Bloomberg Foundation, which has a tobacco harm reduction program …

Farsalinos also wrote an editorial in the journal Toxicology Research Toxicology Reports, on the hypothesis of nicotine as a preventive factor against Covid-19. He published it with a co-author, Konstantinos Poulas, head of the molecular biology laboratory at the University of Patras, Greece, where Farsalinos works. This laboratory has received funding from Nobacco, the market leader in electronic cigarettes in Greece, as revealed by the British Medical Journal.

Retracted publication

Another July 2020 post from Poulas and Farsalinos, has been retracted by theEuropean Respiratory Journal. The withdrawal notice states that “two of the authors had not disclosed any potential conflicts of interest at the time of manuscript submission : “One of the authors (José M. Mier) at the time had a current and continuing role in providing advice to the tobacco industry on tobacco harm reduction; and another (Konstantinos Poulas) was at the time a principal researcher for the Greek NGO NOSMOKE, which is headquartered at Patras Science Park, a science and innovation hub that received funding from the Foundation for a World Without smoke (an organization funded by the tobacco industry).

We asked Konstantinos Farsalinos about this withdrawal via Twitter, without success. As for Konstantinos Poulas, he replied that he would not speak of the investigative article published in British Medical Journal, that he would not comment and that his lawyer was dealing with this matter.


Nicotine protective agent Covid19 tobacco industry funded researchers

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