Electronic databases were searched for articles that reported prevalence of smokers among patients with COVID-19 or studied any association of smoking with outcomes among patients with COVID-19. We identified several biases and knowledge gaps which may give the false impression that smoking is protective in COVID-19. As of now, the data supporting smoker’s paradox claims are limited and questionable. Plausible biologic mechanisms by which smoking might be protective in COVID-19 include an anti-inflammatory effect of nicotine, a blunted immune response in smokers (reducing the risk of a cytokine storm in COVID-19) and increased nitric oxide in the respiratory tract (which may inhibit replication of SARS-CoV-2 and its entry into cells). On the other hand, smoking may worsen susceptibility and prognosis in COVID-19, in a manner similar to other respiratory infections.
The claims of a protective effect must be viewed with extreme caution by both the general population as well as clinicians. Further investigations into the interaction between smoking and COVID-19 are warranted to accurately assess the risk of contracting COVID-19 among smokers, and progression to mechanical ventilation or death in patients suffering from it.