Teens and millennials have already been warned they might not be as protected from COVID-19 as previously thought. And now, there might be an extra risk factor for youth in terms of coronavirus vaping and smoking.
A few months ago, very little direct research was available definitively linking smoking or vaping to severe COVID-19. One study out of China, published in the Chinese Medical Journal, involved 78 COVID-19 patients and found that those with a history of smoking were 14 times as likely to develop pneumonia.
Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have published a study confirming that vaping is not just a small or theoretical risk for catching coronavirus. Indeed, among the teens and young adults who were tested, those who had used e-cigs were five to seven times more likely to be infected than non-users.
According to NBC News, this study is the first national population-based look at connections between vaping and coronavirus in young people. More than 4,351 participants ages 13 to 24 from all across the United States were in the study. The findings?
“Among tested participants, young people who had ever used e-cigs were five times more likely to be diagnosed with coronavirus, while those who had used both e-cigs and regular cigarettes within the previous 30 days were 6.8 times as likely to be diagnosed with the disease,” NBC reports.
Smoking Is A Known Risk Factor for Related Illnesses
The stats surrounding smoking and vaping are alarming. According to CBS News, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest National Youth Tobacco Survey found a staggering one in three American high school students used some type of tobacco product in the previous 30 days, and for the vast majority of them, that means e-cigarettes. And vaping might carry a risk of vulnerability to the worst of COVID-19 symptoms.
While COVID-19 is new, influenza isn’t. Smoking is a known risk factor for the flu. “People who smoke are immunosuppressed to some degree,” Robert Tarran, Chapel Hill professor of cell biology, told Scientific American. “They make more mucus. It doesn’t clear the lungs as well. There are pro-inflammatory changes; immune cells are changed, as well. And all that leads up to, basically, they’re more likely to get viruses and have a worse outcome.”
And e-cigarettes might be worse: Chapel Hill researchers found the use of these devices suppresses the activity of immune- and inflammatory-response genes in nasal cells even more than smoking.
Advice: Quit Smoking and Vaping Now
A blog post from the Drug Abuse.gov site indicates that anyone who smokes or vapes, regardless of age, is more vulnerable.
Dr. Nina Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, wrote: “As people across the US and the rest of the world contend with coronavirus disease 2019 [COVID-19], the research community should be alert to the possibility that it could hit some populations with substance use disorders [SUDs] particularly hard. Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.”
Other researchers and experts echo this concern. “I think that a sensible thing to do for people is to stop smoking and stop vaping—and avoid secondhand exposure,” Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, told Scientific American.
“We don’t have every little detail on this nailed down,” Glantz said. “But based on what we know, generally, about smoking and e-cigarettes—and in particular about smoking and COVID-19 from people who are already sick, from one study in China—it stands to reason that you would lower your risk if you stopped doing these things.”
One example unfolding now is a normally healthy 22-year-old man currently hospitalized in Manhattan. He doesn’t fit the profile for severe COVID-19, except for, perhaps, one.
“Why is a 22-year-old man stable but hospitalized at this point? The one factor we know of is he is a vaper,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said to CBS. “So, we don’t know of any pre-existing conditions, but we do think the fact that he is a vaper is affecting this situation.”