Those who vape could be at exponentially more at-risk of contracting COVID-19

vaping risks coronavirus
Photo via Lindsay Fox at EcigaretteReviewed.com/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Those who have vaped before are five times more likely to get COVID-19 
  • Those who have vaped in the past 30 days are seven times more likely
  • The CDC has investigated similarities between COVID-19 and EVALI

Vaping and e-cigarette use have been linked by a Stanford survey to a seven-fold increase in the risk for contracting COVID-19. So yes, vaping risks are real during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Based on surveys of more than 4,300 people aged between 13-24 from every U.S. state, NBC News reported that those who had ever vaped before were five times more likely to become infected with COVID-19. Those who had vaped and used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, however, were 6.8 times as likely to acquire COVID-19. 

The study based these conclusions around common behaviors associated with vaping and the sharing of e-cigarettes, such as sharing devices which come in contact with the mouth and respiratory droplets which are released in clouds of vapor. E-cigarettes also cause damage to the immune system and lung tissue. Earlier this year, just before COVID-19 became the focus of public health, the CDC was investigating outbreaks of lung injury resulting from vape and e-cigarette use, resulting in a condition called EVALI. 

Before this survey, very little information regarding the connection between COVID-19 and vaping was concrete, according to Wired. Both the FDA and CDC issued reports based on anecdotes, saying that those who did vape regularly had a predisposition to contracting the virus. 

Even into May and June, the CDC was evaluating the similarities between lung damage caused by EVALI and COVID-19, updating the definition of the former to include a requirement for a negative coronavirus test in the state of California. The damage caused to lungs from the use of vapes and e-cigarettes places lung tissue in a compromised state, allowing for greater chances of infection. 

Said Dr. Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, a pediatric pulmonologist, to the New York Times: “I have no doubt in saying that smoking and vaping could put people at increased risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19. It is quite clear that smoking and vaping are bad for the lungs, and the predominant symptoms of COVID are respiratory. Those two things are going to be bad in combination.”

But can vaping spread the virus? Maybe. As Prof. Caitlin Notley of the Norwich Medical School in the U.K. said, “Someone infected with coronavirus clearly would be emitting viral [particles] in their vape if they were vaping, just the same as they would if they were breathing out or singing,” she said. “It is not a good idea for anyone to be exhaling big clouds of vape or singing loudly in a crowded area and sharing their exhaled breath with other people.”

While it’s important to note that the survey and subsequent study do indicate, at a minimum, a correlation between vaping, e-cigarette use, and coronavirus, Wired notes another possible influence on results. The regular side effects of vaping—including excess phlegm production, coughing, and respiratory issues—may have been confused for symptoms of coronavirus, and respondents may have chosen to get tested with that in mind. 

The FDA told NBC News that while it had no comment regarding the survey, it would be going under review. According to Bloomberg, the percentage of teenage vapers has decreased in 2020. “Although the decline in e-cigarette use among our nation’s youth is a notable public health achievement, our work is far from over,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. 

Sources: NBC News, CDC, CDC on EVALI and COVID, Wired, New York Times

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