Smoking and vaping significantly increase risk of COVID-19 in teens and young adults

Children's Health

As the coronavirus pandemic actively spreads around the world, previous data have shown that children, teens, and young adults have a lesser chance of experiencing severe symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Some people, however, are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19, including the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, or those who have underlying medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and hypertension, among others.

Now, a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows that teens and young adults may have a heightened risk of COVID-19 if they vape or smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smokers are seven times more likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, people who vape are five times more likely to be diagnosed with the viral infection.

Study: Association Between Youth Smoking, Electronic Cigarette Use, and Coronavirus Disease 2019. Image Credit: oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

Vaping and COVID-19

Vaping or the use of electronic cigarettes has been tagged in a series of mysterious lung illnesses, which first emerged in August 2019 in the United States. Since then, doctors and health experts have warned against vaping due to its effects on the lungs. Since then, health experts have called regulatory bodies to impose stricter policies on the purchase of electronic cigarettes to teenagers.  

Now, the researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine warn against vaping due to the increased risk of COVID-19, which has now infected more than 20.19 million people and killed at least 739,000.

The study was the first to investigate relationships between vaping among teens and young adults and COVID-19 using U.S. population-based data that was collected during the global health crisis.

“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,” Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, professor of pediatrics in Stanford University, said.

Increased risk of COVID-19

The study aimed to determine whether youth cigarette and e-cigarette use are linked to coronavirus disease symptoms, testing, and diagnosis.

To arrive at the study findings, the team conducted an online survey of adolescents and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24 in May. The surveys were completed by more than 4,300 participants who lived in all the states in the U.S. The team recruited a sample of participants who were evenly divided between those who vaped and those who had never used nicotine products.

The study participants answered questions about whether they had ever used e-cigarettes, as well as if they vaped or smoked in the past 30 days. They were also asked if they experienced symptoms of COVID-19, if they got tested or if they were diagnosed with the infectious disease.

The team also used multivariable logistic regression that assessed the relationships among COVID-19-related symptoms, testing, and diagnosis, and cigarettes only, e-cigarettes only, and dual-use. They also took into consideration other factors like obesity and other sociodemographic factors.

Study findings

The researchers have found that teens and young adults who used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the last 30 days were almost five times more likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, coughing, and difficulty of breathing compared to those who never vaped or smoked.

The finding explains why they were at a heightened risk of receiving COVID-19 testing. Further, depending on which nicotine products they were using and how recently they used them, teens and young adults who vaped or smoked, or both, were 2.6 to nine times as likely to receive COVID-19 tests than those who never used these nicotine-based products.

The team also revealed that the likelihood of being diagnosed with COVID-19 was five times more among e-cigarette users only, seven times more among those who both vaped and smoked, and 6.8 times more likely among those who vaped and smoked in the past 30 days. Further, the symptoms of COVID-19 were 4.7 times more likely among those who vaped or smoked in the previous 30 days.

“COVID-19 is associated with youth use of e-cigarettes only and dual use of e-cigarettes and cigarettes, suggesting the need for screening and education,” the team wrote in the paper.

The team believes that their study findings will prompt the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to impose stricter policies and regulations governing how vaping products are sold to younger people, particularly teens.

“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,” Dr. Shivani Mathur Gaiha, the study’s lead author, said.

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

Journal reference:

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