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Journal Takes Down Study Suggesting Smoking Lowers Risk of Covid19

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Apr 23, 2021

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In a move that shocked exactly zero people, the journal that published a pre-print article in July 2020 suggesting smokers were less likely to contract Covid19 has.retracted the study this week. The reason? The study authors failed to mention they had financial ties to the tobacco industry.

The pre-print article, which appeared in the European Respiratory Journal on July 30 last year, stated that smokers were 23% less likely to be diagnosed with Covid19 as compared to non-smokers. It went on to claim that smokers did not face any adverse outcomes due to Covid19 — in layman’s terms, practically stating that smokers were immune to Covid19. This is a false assertion — by base logic, Covid19 affects the lungs and causes other respiratory problems, and so does smoking. Since smokers already have weak lungs, they are far more likely to have adverse outcomes due to the viral disease. Several other works of research attest to this, with the World Health Organization also warning that smokers face a higher risk of developing severe Covid19 amid the pandemic.

“The above-mentioned article has been retracted at the request of the editors and the publisher… it was brought to the editors’ attention that two of the authors had failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest at the time of the manuscript’s submission,” the journal’s retraction notice for the study states.

“That is, one of the authors (José M. Mier) at the time had a current and ongoing role in providing consultancy to the tobacco industry on tobacco harm reduction; and another (Konstantinos Poulas) at the time was a principal investigator for the Greek NGO NOSMOKE, which has its base at Patras Science Park, a science and innovation hub that has received funding from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (an organization funded by the tobacco industry).” The authors’ link with tobacco companies proved to be a conflict of interest in making any objective claim about smoking.


Related on The Swaddle:

The Quality of Scientific Research Has Deteriorated Amid the Covid19 Pandemic. Ethicists Explain How to Fix It.


The retraction notice further goes on to say that the authors disagreed with the journal’s decision to retract the paper, as they considered not disclosing this conflict of interest a weak grounds for retraction.

One of the senior authors of the study, Konstantinos Farsalinos, told the website Retraction Watch that the conflicts of interest in question “were irrelevant to the study’s main aims and objectives.” Further, Farsalinos added, “Additionally, I proposed to publicly release the full dataset and the statistical script so that all findings could be independently verified. The editors declined. I requested my proposal to be mentioned in the retraction letter, but that was also rejected by the editors. I disagree with the retraction and I consider it unfair and unsubstantiated.”

But the findings of the study came into question in August 2020, when an article published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine pointed out several flaws, “which may give the false impression that smoking is protective in Covid-19,” and concluded that, “as of now, the data supporting smoker’s paradox claims are limited and questionable.”

Who would’ve thought?

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.

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