The Paradox of the Low Prevalence of Current Smokers Among COVID-19 Patients Hospitalized in Nonintensive Care Wards: Results From an Italian Multicenter Case-Control Study

Nicotine Tob Res. 2021 Aug 4;23(8):1436-1440. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntaa188.


Introduction: COVID-19, a respiratory illness due to SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, was first described in December 2019 in Wuhan, rapidly evolving into a pandemic. Smoking increases the risk of respiratory infections; thus, cessation represents a huge opportunity for public health. However, there is scarce evidence about if and how smoking affects the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Methods: We performed an observational case-control study, assessing the single-day point prevalence of smoking among 218 COVID-19 adult patients hospitalized in seven Italian nonintensive care wards and in a control group of 243 patients admitted for other conditions to seven COVID-19-free general wards. We compared proportions for categorical variables by using the χ 2 test and performed univariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses to identify the variables associated with the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19.

Results: The percentages of current smokers (4.1% vs 16%, p = .00003) and never smokers (71.6% vs 56.8%, p = .0014) were significantly different between COVID-19 and non-COVID 19 patients. COVID-19 patients had lower mean age (69.5 vs 74.2 years, p = .00085) and were more frequently males (59.2% vs 44%, p = .0011). In the logistic regression analysis, current smokers were significantly less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 compared with nonsmokers (odds ratio = 0.23; 95% confidence interval, 0.11-0.48, p < .001), even after adjusting for age and gender (odds ratio = 0.14; 95% confidence interval, 0.06-0.31, p < .001).

Conclusions: We reported an unexpectedly low prevalence of current smokers among COVID-19 patients hospitalized in nonintensive care wards. The meaning of these preliminary findings, which are in line with those currently emerging in literature, is unclear; they need to be confirmed by larger studies.

Implications: An unexpectedly low prevalence of current smokers among patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in some Italian nonintensive care wards is reported. This finding could be a stimulus for the generation of novel hypotheses on individual predisposition and possible strategies for reducing the risk of infection from SARS-CoV-2 and needs to be confirmed by further larger studies designed with adequate methodology.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Smokers / statistics & numerical data*