Story at a glance

  • A paper, published in a scientific journal, alleging smokers are 23 percent less likely to receive a COVID-19 diagnosis has been retracted because some of the authors had financial ties to the tobacco industry.
  • “If these conflicts of interest had been disclosed at the point of manuscript submission, the editors would not have considered the article for publication,” the retraction notice said.
  • The journal’s retraction stated that the authors disagreed with the editors decision, but added the authors were not believed to be engaged in any misconduct.

A paper, published in a scientific journal, alleging smokers are 23 percent less likely to receive a COVID-19 diagnosis has been retracted because some of the authors had financial ties to the tobacco industry. 

Published in July 2020 by the European Respiratory Journal, the paper alleged that “current smoking was not associated with adverse outcome,” in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the Guardian reported

The journal retracted the paper in a recent edition, citing the potential conflict of interest of two researchers involved with the study. The retraction notice says the authors in question failed to disclose the conflict. 

“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,” the notice said. 

NOSMOKE is a “science and innovation hub” that previously received funds from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World, which has also received industry funds, according to the notice. 

“If these conflicts of interest had been disclosed at the point of manuscript submission, the editors would not have considered the article for publication,” the retraction notice said.


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The retraction stated that the authors disagreed with the editor's decision, but added the authors were not believed to be engaged in any misconduct.

“The editors also acknowledge that at no point was there a question of any scientific misconduct on the part of any of the authors, aside from the failure of two contributing authors to disclose their conflicts of interest relating to the tobacco industry," the notice said. 

The paper’s senior author Konstantinos Farsalinos said in a statement to Retraction Watch that the conflicts in question were “irrelevant to the study’s main aims and objectives.” 

“Additionally, I proposed to publicly release the full dataset and the statistical script so that all findings could be independently verified,” he said. “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.”

BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine published an analysis of the paper, which “identified several biases and knowledge gaps which may give the false impression that smoking is protective in Covid-19”. The analysis referred to a “smoker’s paradox” cited in the paper that could imply smokers could be protected from severe cases of COVID-19

“In the context of smoking and Covid-19, poor data collection can lead to several erroneous conclusions. If patients with missing smoking data are not eliminated from the total pool, smokers may be wrongly underrepresented. Furthermore, it is difficult to get accurate history from patients who are either intubated or in respiratory failure,” the analysis reads.


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Published on Apr 22, 2021