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Current tobacco smoking and risk from COVID-19: results from a population symptom app in over 2.4 million people

By Nicholas S Hopkinson, Niccolò Rossi, Julia El-Sayed Moustafa, Anthony A Laverty, Jennifer Quint, Maxim Freidin, Alessia Visconti, Benjamin Murray, Marc Modat, Sebastien Ourselin, Kerrin Small, Richard Davies, Jonathan Wolf, Timothy Spector, Claire Steves, Mario Falchi

Posted 21 May 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.18.20105288

Background: The association between current tobacco smoking, the risk of developing COVID-19 and the severity of illness is an important information gap. Methods: UK users of the COVID Symptom Study app provided baseline data including demographics, anthropometrics, smoking status and medical conditions, were asked to log symptoms daily from 24th March 2020 to 23rd April 2020. Participants reporting that they did not feel physically normal were taken through a series of questions, including 14 potential COVID-19 symptoms and any hospital attendance. The main study outcome was the association between current smoking and the development of classic symptoms of COVID-19 during the pandemic defined as fever, new persistent cough and breathlessness. The number of concurrent COVID-19 symptoms was used as a proxy for severity. In addition, association of subcutaneous adipose tissue expression of ACE2, both the receptor for SARS-CoV-2 and a potential mediator of disease severity, with smoking status was assessed in a subset of 541 twins from the TwinsUK cohort. Results: Data were available on 2,401,982 participants, mean(SD) age 43.6(15.1) years, 63.3% female, overall smoking prevalence 11.0%. 834,437 (35%) participants reported being unwell and entered one or more symptoms. Current smokers were more likely to develop symptoms suggesting a diagnosis of COVID-19; classic symptoms adjusted OR[95%CI] 1.14[1.10 to 1.18]; >5 symptoms 1.29[1.26 to 1.31]; >10 symptoms 1.50[1.42 to 1.58]. Smoking was associated with reduced ACE2 expression in adipose tissue (Beta(SE)= -0.395(0.149); p=7.01x10-3). Interpretation: These data are consistent with smokers having an increased risk from COVID-19.

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