The larger conversation about a global pandemic centered around a virus that causes a deadly respiratory disease, for many, has drowned out the previous pressing cultural conversation around vaping among young people and its risks. But wouldn’t you know it, the concerns remain present and shouldn’t be too far from parents minds with researchers recently publishing a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health that young people who vape are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and becoming very ill.
Looking at a pool of more than 4,000 young people (aged 13-24) who were smokers, vapers and none-of-the-above, researchers at Stanford found that cigarette and e-cig users (who reported using in the last 30 days) were 4.7 times more likely to experience the symptoms of COVID-19. They also noted that “Experiencing such symptoms was nearly twice more likely among African American/black, Hispanic, other/multiracial, underweight, and obese participants; 1.8 times more likely among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth; and 1.6 times more likely among those not complying with shelter-in-place.”
“Both cigarette and electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use damage the respiratory system, potentially increasing the risk of experiencing COVID-19–related symptoms, a positive diagnosis and exacerbated health outcomes,” the researchers wrote. “Currently, there are no U.S. population-based studies assessing the relationship between cigarette smoking, e-cigarette use, and COVID-19–related outcomes. In the absence of information on smoking and e-cigarette use history of youth diagnosed with COVID-19, we conducted a population-level examination of whether youth cigarette and/or e-cigarette use is associated with increased likelihood of experiencing COVID-19–related symptoms, being tested, and being diagnosed with COVID-19.”
This isn’t too surprising based on what we know about what vaping and smoking can do to your organs paired with what we currently understand about what COVID-19 can do to your organs. Vaping has been connected with lung issues, heart disease, a much-publicized vaping disease connected with cheap black market product “cut” with vitamin E acetate and issues in fertility. Meanwhile, doctors studying the novel coronavirus are finding that it can potentially cause longterm and permanent cardiovascular damage, possible fertility/testicular damage in men (who are also experiencing higher mortality rates anyway) and a potentially-linked multi-system inflammation syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease affecting children.
“At the time of this review, the available evidence suggests that smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” the World Health Organization (WHO) wrote in a review of observational studies on smokers and tobacco users and outcomes for COVID-19. “Although likely related to severity, there is no evidence to quantify the risk to smokers of hospitalization with COVID-19 or of infection by SARS-CoV-2 was found in the peer-reviewed literature. Population-based studies are needed to address these questions…Given the well-established harms associated with tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure;2 WHO recommends that tobacco users stop using tobacco. Proven interventions to help users quit include toll-free quit lines, mobile text-messaging cessation programmes, nicotine replacement therapies and other approved medications.”
As for parents who are still attempting to help their teens understand the risks of smoking and vaping under the best circumstances, this provides additional information and incentive to have the difficult (and, yes, sometimes cringe-tastic) conversations about vaping and encourage a path to cessation.
“The findings from a national sample of adolescents and young adults show that electronic cigarette use and dual use of electronic cigarettes and cigarettes are significant underlying risk factors for coronavirus disease 2019,” the researchers conclude. “Health care providers, parents, schools, community-based organizations, and policymakers must help make youth aware of the connection between smoking and vaping and coronavirus disease.”
Before you go, check out our conversation with real teens and tweens about what they actually think about vaping: