PARIS (Reuters) – France on Friday restricted sales of nicotine substitutes after research published this week suggested nicotine may offer some protection against infection by the new coronavirus.

The Health Ministry said in a decree it aimed to avoid a shortage of products such as nicotine patches for patients and to prevent the wrong use, and overuse, of substitutes used to fight nicotine dependence.

Under the decree, pharmacies are not allowed to sell more than a month’s worth of substitutes until May 11 when France is to begin easing lockdown measures and reopening schools.

The decree also said that online sales were suspended.

“A team of French researchers has written an interesting scientific article which tends to show that there are fewer patients in the population consuming nicotine — and therefore smokers — than in the rest of population”, health minister Olivier Veran told members of parliament on Wednesday.

“But beware, this does not mean that tobacco protects. Tobacco kills”, Veran said, adding that more than 70,000 people die each year in France from smoking related illnesses.

He was referring to a study by researchers at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris that showed that smokers were less infected with the virus than other people. It also showed that nicotine could prevent the virus from entering cells.

Researchers warned nevertheless that smokers who did become infected with coronavirus would develop more severe cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease it causes.

(Reporting by Matthieu Protard, Editing by William Maclean)