Young people who vape were up to 5 times more likely to get COVID-19 compared to non-users, according to researchers

By Nicholas Rice
August 13, 2020 11:56 AM
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Young adult vape users may have an increased risk of getting COVID-19.

In a study that was published Tuesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers offered data that showed a relationship between e-cigarette use and a higher risk of getting the novel coronavirus in young adults.

Stanford University researchers recruited more than 4,300 U.S. individuals, ages 13 to 24, to complete an online survey in May about their e-cigarette use, as well as whether they had experienced symptoms of COVID-19, had been tested for the virus or were diagnosed with the disease from a positive test.

Data collected from the survey showed that e-cigarette users were five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, and those who used both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with respiratory illness, compared to those who did not use e-cigarettes or traditional cigarettes at all.

The study also showed that testing for COVID-19 was more likely among those who vape.

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"Teens and young adults need to know that if you use e-cigarettes, you are likely at immediate risk of COVID-19 because you are damaging your lungs," the study’s senior author, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, said in a statement.

Fellow study author Shivani Mathur Gaiha echoed Halpern-Felsher's declaration and said, "Young people may believe their age protects them from contracting the virus or that they will not experience symptoms of COVID-19, but the data show this isn’t true among those who vape."

“This study tells us pretty clearly that youth who are using vapes or are dual-using [e-cigarettes and cigarettes] are at elevated risk, and it’s not just a small increase in risk; it’s a big one,” Gaiha added.

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Since the beginning of the ongoing pandemic, various health agencies have warned about a connection between smoking, vaping and COVID-19 risk, and this new study on the young adults comes about after numerous studies have largely been on adults and smoking traditional cigarettes.

The study gave several potential explanations for why both dual-use and e-cigarette use were associated with infection, including a high exposure to nicotine and other chemicals in e-cigarettes that harm the lungs.

COVID-19 also spreads through repeated touching of one’s hands to the mouth and face, which is common among cigarette and e-cigarette users. Sharing devices is also a common practice among young e-cigarette users, according to the study.

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However, the study only found an association between vaping and COVID-19 infection, and cannot prove that vaping led to the illness.

The study also took into account a number of factors that could influence participants' risk of infection, such as their self-reported compliance with shelter-in-place orders and the rate of COVID-19 diagnoses in their state, as well as their age, sex, race, body mass index and socioeconomic status.

The researchers also hope their findings will prompt the Food and Drug Administration to tighten regulations on how vaping products are sold to young people.

"Now is the time," Halpern-Felsher said. "We need the FDA to hurry up and regulate these products. And we need to tell everyone: If you are a vaper, you are putting yourself at risk for COVID-19 and other lung diseases."

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