With the news that a woman collapsed and died from suspected Ebola infection at Gatwick Airport today (it turns out she didn’t have the virus), scientists are warning of a possible new front opening up in the Tobacco Wars.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has for many decades followed its own strict procedural guidelines for the outbreak of Ebola virus, involving allowing infected people to see the course of the disease through to its full term then having their corpses incinerated in sealed crematoria. However, tobacco companies now claim that using antibodies derived from tobacco plants can save the lives of infected people if used quickly enough. In tests on mice, 100 percent survived when the tobacco-derived antibodies were administered within an hour and 66% survived when treated within 48 hours of being exposed to Ebola.
But Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suspects the motives of the big tobacco companies. “It’s too soon to say this is an effective treatment or strategy to take,” he says.
“We just don’t know enough yet. But you also have to consider the evidence from the mice trials. Three months after recovery, mouse survivors went on to present inflated interest in these products when placed in containers alongside them.”
Simon Chapman, Professor in Public Health at the University of Sydney, Australia, was similarly cautious. “Tobacco companies have a bottom line: more users of nicotine products. So until we can conclusively rule-out ‘gateway’ consequences of this treatment the WHO needs to stick with its tried and tested procedure: containment, death, cremation.”
And Alzheimer prevention research (which centres around the use of nicotine)?
“This is the wrong question, the wrong-way around. If anything we need a bit more Alzheimer’s for long time smokers so that they forget where their cigarettes are!”