ORIGINAL TITLE: France limits nicotine product sales after research suggests could protect from coronavirus (here).
France has limited the sale of nicotine substitutes to avoid panic-buying and stockpiling after research suggests the addictive substance could potentially protect people from contracting coronavirus.
Pharmacies will be able to sell a maximum of one month’s supply of nicotine-dependence products such as patches and gum for the period until 11 May, when the country plans to begin lifting its lockdown.
Online sales have been suspended entirely.
The move is to "firstly prevent the health risks from excessive consumption or misuse linked to media coverage of the possible protective effect of nicotine against COVID-19," the French government said in a statement.
"Secondly it guarantees continuous and appropriate supply to people requiring medical support to stop smoking."
Evidence was released in a study on Wednesday that examined almost 500 coronavirus patients in a top Paris hospital, finding that smokers were far less represented in the ward when compared to France’s general population – five per cent as opposed to 35 per cent.
The research supports similar findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March that found 12.6 per cent of 1,000 Chinese cases were smokers, as compared to 26 per cent of China's population.
French researchers are awaiting approval to carry further trials, including the use of nicotine patches to protect health workers against contracting the virus.
Nicotine could potentially compete with the virus for the cell receptors, thereby blocking the virus from entering cells and spreading in the body, said the study's co-author, neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux from France's Pasteur Institut.
“Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that those who smoke every day are much less likely to develop a symptomatic or severe infection with Sars-CoV-2 compared with the general population,” the Pitié-Salpêtrière report states.
“The effect is significant. It divides the risk by five for ambulatory patients and by four for those admitted to hospital. We rarely see this in medicine,” it added.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran on Friday urged citizens not to rush out and buy nicotine products, warning about the 70,000 deaths in France each year related to tobacco.
But he called the research "interesting" and said that products similar to nicotine could be developed for its benefits while avoiding the addictive effects.
France is one of the European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, with nearly 22,000 deaths and more than 158,000 reported infections.