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Successful Cessation Programs that Reduce Comorbidity May Explain Surprisingly Low Smoking Rates Among Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients

Cohen, Bruce N. and Nichols, Aaron L. and Grant, Stephen and Blumenfeld, Zach and Dougherty, Dennis A. and Alvarez, R. Michael and Ritz, Beate and Lester, Henry A. (2020) Successful Cessation Programs that Reduce Comorbidity May Explain Surprisingly Low Smoking Rates Among Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients. . (Unpublished)

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A recent, non-peer-reviewed meta-analysis suggests that smoking may reduce the risk of hospitalization with COVID-19 because the prevalence of smoking among hospitalized COVID-19 is less than that of the general population. However, there are alternative explanations for this phenomena based on (1) the failure to report, or accurately record, smoking history during emergency hospital admissions and (2) a pre-disposition to avoid smoking among COVID-19 patients with tobacco-related comorbidities (a type of “reverse” causation). For example, urine testing of hospitalized patients in Australia for cotinine showed that smokers were under-counted by 37% because incoming patients failed to inform staff about their smoking behavior. Face-to-face interviews can introduce bias into the responses to attitudinal and behavioral questions not present in the self-completion interviews typically used to measure smoking prevalence in the general population. Subjects in face-to-face interviews may be unwilling to admit socially undesirable behavior and attitudes under direct questioning. Reverse causation may also contribute to the difference between smoking prevalence in the COVID-19 and general population. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 may be simply less prone to use tobacco than the general population. A potentially robust “reverse causation” hypothesis for reduced prevalence of smokers in the COVID-19 population is the enrichment of patients in that population with serious comorbidities that motivates them to quit smoking. We judge that this “smoking cessation” mechanism may account for a significant fraction of the reduced prevalence of smokers in the COVID-19 population. Testing this hypothesis will require a focused research program.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Discussion Paper)
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper
Nichols, Aaron L.0000-0001-9341-0049
Grant, Stephen0000-0003-0923-8886
Blumenfeld, Zach0000-0002-4627-5582
Dougherty, Dennis A.0000-0003-1464-2461
Alvarez, R. Michael0000-0002-8113-4451
Ritz, Beate0000-0001-6976-7339
Lester, Henry A.0000-0002-5470-5255
Additional Information:Open Access | CC-BY We thank Michael H. Kanter (Kaiser Permanente Medical School) and Nora Volkow (NIDA) for comments and suggestions.
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200526-135356434
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Bruce Cohen, Aaron Nichols, Stephen Grant, Zack Blumenfeld, et al. (2020). Successful Cessation Programs that Reduce Comorbidity may Explain Surprisingly Low Smoking Rates among Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients. Qeios. doi:10.32388/WURFH0.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:103463
Deposited By: R. Alvarez
Deposited On:26 May 2020 21:24
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 18:21

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