Study finds using electronic cigarettes can lead to ‘substantially increased risk’ for teens and young adults of developing covid-19

Teen vaping
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Electronic cigarettes are linked to a “substantially increased risk” of covid-19 among teens and young adults, a new study says.
“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,” the lead researcher, Dr. Shivani Mathur Gaiha, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, said in a news release.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that people from 13 to 24 who use e-cigarettes have a “substantially increased” risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus and exhibiting symptoms of covid-19, such as coughing, fever, tiredness, and difficulty breathing.
The researchers found that among young people who were tested for the coronavirus, those who used e-cigarettes were five to seven times more likely to be infected than those who did not.
In Kentucky, 26.1 percent of high-school students use e-cigarettes frequently (on 20 or more of the 30 days before the survey) and 8.7% use e-cigs daily, according to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The findings prompted two Illinois Democrats, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, chair of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee’s consumer subcommittee, to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to encourage college campuses to go tobacco-free, and that all such policies should include e-cigarettes, Beth Wang reports for Inside Health Policy. 

“College-age tobacco users are at heightened risk of contracting the virus, and they will spread it,” the legislators wrote. “Young people are increasingly driving the spread of covid-19, and that will only increase with reopened college campuses if appropriate public health precautions are not strictly implemented.”

The latest Kentucky report shows 710 college and university students and 27 staff have active cases of the virus and that 1,417 students and 60 staff have ever testing positive for it. Those numbers are almost certainly under-reported.

The legislators noted that most college students are already unable to legally purchase tobacco products, since Congress raised the tobacco-purchasing age from 18 to 21 in December, Wang reports.
In a letter to state Health Commissioner Steven Stack, the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow walks through the known risks from covid-19 associated with smoking.
The letter says the CDC has identified smokers as a group of people at higher risk for severe illness from covid-19 if they contract the disease, and the World Health Organization has found that “smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with covid-10, compared to non-smokers.”
The letter expands on how smoking harms the lungs, how tobacco weakens the immune system, how smoking is the major cause of a list of underlying health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, and that a growing body of evidence shows that vaping can harm lung health.
“While it is not yet clear if smoking can increase the likelihood of contracting the disease, evidence confirms that smokers are more susceptible to severe symptoms if they do contract covid-19,” says the letter, signed by Ben Chandler, the coalition’s chair and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
Kentucky adults who want to quit smoking can call the state’s free quit-tobacco line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).
Teens who want to quit vaping can use a program called “My Life, My Quit,” a free service for minors. The program includes live support by phone, text or online chat.
Participants can join by texting START MY QUIT to 855-891-9989 or going to MyLifeMyQuit.com. Teens are eligible for up to five calls with an experienced and trained Quit Coach. The program does not provide nicotine replacement therapy.
Here are other resources for teens looking to quit: