Smoking has long-term effect on immune system - new French research

The study is the first of its kind and looks at the impact of smoking on the immune system in comparison to other factors such as BMI, sleep, illnesses, and exercise

An older man smoking outside and coughing
The study found that smoking has a significant, long-term impact on immune health
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Smoking has adverse effects on the immune system that can last beyond the short-term and up to 10-15 years, a new study by a scientific team in France claims.

The team at the renowned Institut Pasteur released the study in the scientific journal Nature on February 14. Researchers stated that it is the first study to establish that smoking causes long-term damage (as well as short-term, which is already well-documented).

"This is the first time that the long-term influence of smoking on immune responses has been demonstrated,” said Dr Darragh Duffy, head of the Translational Immunology Unit at the Institut Pasteur and one of the authors of the study.

Dr Violaine Saint-André, a research engineer in the same unit, and another author of the study, said that smoking leads to a change in “the expression of genes involved in the metabolism of immune cells”.

The study concluded: “It looks as though the immune system ‘remembers’ the effects of tobacco in the long-term.”

Variables including smoking

The researchers compared the immune systems of 1,000 healthy people aged 20 to 70, and exposed their blood samples to a variety of microbes.

The scientists were then able to observe which variables - including body mass index, number of hours of sleep, smoking habits, physical activity, place of residence, vaccinations and childhood illnesses - had the greatest influence on the immune system.

Smoking was one of the greatest factors and considered to be as influential as BMI, and having a virus infection from the Herpes family (cytomegalovirus).

“These three factors could have as much influence on certain immune responses as age, sex or genetic variables,” said Dr Duffy.

Dr Saint-André added that this discovery will enable the scientific community to "better understand" the impact of smoking on “the immunity of healthy individuals but also, by comparison, on the immunity of individuals suffering from various pathologies”.

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