Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

David Hockney’s unsupported perspective

David Hockney enjoying a cigarette in Nottingham, England. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

Helen Holmes, David Hockney Says Smokers Have Developed an ‘Immune System’ Against Coronavirus, Observer, 4 April 2020

As living with the coronavirus becomes the new normal for communities all over the world, artists like Yayoi Kusama and Mo Willems have stepped forward to offer ways to self-soothe or stay entertained while practicing social distancing. Now, David Hockney, one of the most famous and successful living painters in the world, has added his voice to the conversation via a letter he sent to the Daily Mail. Controversially, Hockney is of the opinion that smoking cigarettes could provide people with a defense against the coronavirus, a stance that he backs up by citing data from the outbreak in China that points to fewer smokers being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 treatment.

“Smokers have developed an immune system to this virus,” Hockney wrote. “With all these figures coming out, it’s beginning to look like that to me. I’m serious.” Additionally, the artist weighed in on his own mortality. “I’ve smoked for more than 60 years, but I think I’m quite healthy,” Hockney added. “How much longer do I have? I’m going to die of either a smoking-related illness or a non-smoking-related illness,” Hockney wrote. While this particular flavor of contemplative nihilism is certainly entertaining coming from one of the most celebrated artists in the world, Hockney’s theory that smokers are less likely to get the coronavirus is problematic at best and dangerous at worst.

The World Health Organization writes that smokers are in fact more likely to be vulnerable to COVID-19, due to the fact that potentially contaminated fingers and cigarettes are coming into frequent contact with a person’s open mouth when they smoke. “Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity, which would greatly increase risk of serious illness,” WHO continues. Additionally, although it’s clear that more research is warranted, recent studies are beginning to trickle out which indicate that smoking is likely associated with the “negative progression and adverse outcomes of COVID-19.”

It’s possible Hockney’ swiped his theory from rumors that nicotine has the ability to “downregulate” the enzyme that binds COVID-19 to humans, which has been getting a decent amount of circulation on Twitter. It’s a theory that has little to no scientific basis, particularly in the face of the mounting evidence that smoking increases the risk of COVID-19 symptoms growing more severe. Right now, it’s important to practice common sense and remember that cigarettes have been proven to be really, really bad for you. Until the world knows enough about coronavirus in order to develop a vaccine, it’s probably best to assume that smoking won’t save you.


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