The health hazards of vaping have been a subject of much controversy over the last few years, but now there is a new concern: an increased risk of a severe coronavirus infection.
With how new this novel coronavirus infection is, as well as how relatively new vaping itself is, there have not yet been a lot of studies looking into the link between vaping and coronavirus in particular. However, years’ worth of evidence suggests that one of the major health hazards of vaping is the suppression of the body’s immune system, triggering lung inflammation. This, in turn, leads to a heightened risk of developing chronic lung conditions for users of e-cigarettes along with long-time smokers. Chronic lung conditions, in turn, have been linked with many of the more serious cases of coronavirus.
Experts now suggest that smoking and even vaping may increase a person’s risk of developing a severe infection from coronavirus exposure.
“All these things make me believe that we are going to have more severe cases—especially [in] people who are [long-term] smokers or vapers,” Melodi Pirzada, chief of pediatric pulmonology at NYU Winthrop Hospital on Long Island, told Scientific American. While Pirzada has not treated patients with COVID-19, “it is definitely common sense to think that once you have a history of smoking or vaping, the whole airways, the defense mechanism of your lungs—everything changes,” she said.
Given how recent the coronavirus pandemic is, little research has been done into whether this may be added to the known health hazards of vaping and smoking. One preprint study in China showed that men were a little more likely than women to be hospitalized from a coronavirus infection. Some scientists indicate that this difference may be accounted for given that far more men than women smoke in China. Another study, which looked at 78 patients with COVID-19 and was published in the Chinese Medical Journal online, found that patients who had a history of smoking were far more likely to develop pneumonia—by about 14 times.
Compounding the Health Hazards of Vaping
But even without a plethora of specific studies looking at vaping and coronavirus specifically, enough is already known through scientific literature about how the lungs and immune function are affected by vaping and smoking that some logical conclusions about potential risks can be drawn regarding coronavirus as well.
“For regular smoking, we know it inhibits the ciliary clearance of the airways,” Pirzada told Scientific American. “We have these little [hairlike] structures known as cilia, and they are responsible for taking the toxins and the mucus out of our airways and clearing the lungs when we cough. We know that that is affected when you smoke and when you vape.”
In general, those who are immunocompromised are at an increased risk of developing a coronavirus infection, and developing it to a more severe degree than others. Vaping or smoking may contribute to that risk. Though no direct connection has been made, assuming there may be a connection is, for now, the safest course of action, experts say.
“I think that a sensible thing to do for people is to stop smoking and stop vaping—and avoid secondhand exposure,” Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, told Scientific American.
Though other parts of the world have already been hit with an extreme exponential increase in infections, the United States is a little behind. Young people across the U.S. may have heard messaging that indicates that they are not at risk of developing COVID-19, downplaying the need for social distancing, the risk they actually face, and their responsibility in not spreading the virus further, particularly to vulnerable populations.
Moreover, a huge number of young people in their teens and early twenties regularly vape, and they may not be aware that vaping could affect their ability to fight off COVID-19, and could also increase the severity of the virus.
“Teens and young adults that use e-cigarettes may not be aware of the damage caused to their lung tissue,” Rogelio Choy, M.D., Pulmonary Specialist in Palm Beach County told MSNBC. “They are more susceptible to horrendous complications from COVID-19. Inhaling any kind of substance irritates and inflames lung tissue. Vaping makes you more susceptible to a myriad of lung diseases.”
If you or a loved one have suffered from health hazards of vaping, you may be able to file a lawsuit and pursue compensation.
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