Study: Vaping teens, young adults have substantially increased risk of COVID-19

FILE – In this Oct. 4, 2019, file photo, a woman using an electronic cigarette exhales in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Teens and young adults who smoke and use e-cigarettes have a substantially increased risk of COVID-19, according to a study led by the Stanford University School of Medicine.

People ages 13 to 24 who have ever used an e-cigarette are five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 compared to nonusers. The study also found users of both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes in the past month are nearly seven times more likely to be diagnosed.

“This is a relationship study, we certainly can’t say causality,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Stanford University professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine. “But, (there are) very strong relationships on — if you’re a smoker or a vaper, you’re significantly more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.”

Some suspected, potential explanations for the findings:

  • Smoking and vaping can hurt immune systems.
  • Teens and young adults tend to share vaping products.
  • There’s a lot of hand-to-mouth contact.
  • Aerosolized breath droplets containing COVID-19 become airborne and spread in the smoke.
  • Smoking/vaping side effects mimic some COVID-19 symptoms that would have combined to allow potential patients increased access to virus testing.

“Hopefully, these data really encourage you to stop vaping, to stop smoking,” Halpern-Felsher said.

“We know, there’s increased asthma, increased bronchitis, increased pneumonia just from vaping,” she added. “This is just one more piece in the long list of symptoms that you’re more likely to have if you vape.”


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Halpern-Felsher wants those who may be considering taking up vaping or smoking, perhaps because of stress, to find other ways to ease anxiety.

Halpern-Felsher also is the founder and executive director of the Tobacco Prevention Toolkit and the Cannabis Awareness and Prevention Toolkit.

Her message to the Food and Drug Administration, and state and local regulators: “We need to finally regulate electronic cigarettes and get this really harmful product out of the hands of teenagers.”

“In January of 2020, the FDA said they had enforcement prioritization on closed systems, pod-based systems — but they’re not enforcing it. They’re really not. We know teens are still using Juuls, teens are still using all forms of electronic cigarettes. We also know they’re still using flavors,” Halpern-Felsher said.

“The FDA really needs to crack down on these products, and we also need cessation. We need to know how to figure out how to help teenagers who are using these products to stop,” she said.

You can find COVID-19 and vaping/smoking materials and quit materials on the Stanford Medicine website.

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