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Study shows teens, young adults who vape more at risk for COVID-19

A study out of Stanford University School of Medicine showed that teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes are linked to a substantially increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

The study was published August 11, in the Journal of Adolescent Health and is the first to examine connections between youth vaping and COVID-19 using U.S. population-based data collected during the pandemic.

“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,” said the study’s senior author, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, professor of pediatrics.

“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,” said the study’s lead author, postdoctoral scholar Shivani Mathur Gaiha, PhD.

“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 said.

The increased risk of contracting the virus after vaping was four to seven times more likely.

A total of 4,351 participants completed the online survey from all 50 U.S. states.

“We conducted a national cross-sectional online survey of adolescents and young adults aged 13–24 years from May 6 to 14, 2020 in the U.S., using Qualtrics, a leading enterprise survey technology platform,” The study said. “Participants were recruited from Qualtrics’ existing online panels using a survey Web link on gaming sites, social media, customer loyalty portals, and through website intercept recruitment. Qualtrics panels are widely used to conduct social/behavioral research. The online survey took 15–20 minutes to complete. Through quota sampling, we recruited e-cigarette ever-users (50.2 percent) and nonusers (49.8 percent); and adolescents (aged 13–17; 33.7 percent), young adults (aged 18–20 years; 41.6 percent), and adults (aged 21–24 years; 24.7 percent), while balancing gender and race/ethnicity.”

The reason for this heightened risk is because of different studies that show heightened exposure to nicotine and other chemicals in e-cigarettes adversely affects lung function.

“There are a number of potential reasons why both dual use and e-cigarette use were associated with getting infected with COVID-19,” The study said. “Heightened exposure to nicotine and other chemicals in e-cigarettes adversely affects lung function, with studies showing that lung damage caused by e-cigarettes is comparable to combustible cigarettes. COVID-19 spreads through repeated touching of one’s hands to the mouth and face, which is common among cigarette and e-cigarette users. Furthermore, sharing devices (although likely reduced while staying at home) is also a common practice among youth e-cigarette users.”

In addition to warning teenagers and young adults about the dangers of vaping, the researchers hope their findings will prompt the Food and Drug Administration to further tighten regulations governing 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 disease.”