Smoking, vaping makes users more susceptible to more severe COVID-19 illness
"Woman Vaping on Electronic Cigarette" by Vaping360 is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Four months ago, the U.S. was entering a battle that has now arguably turned into one of the country's greatest tragedies in the past hundred years. As of July 7, the U.S. lost almost 134,000 people to COVID-19, not to mention the financial and mental health burden the virus has placed on many, many more people.
However, before the pandemic, the past half-decade has seen enormous spikes in youth electronic cigarette usage, including the ever-popular brand JUUL. In 2017, 11% of high school students had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, and by 2018, that number had risen to 21%. In 2019, 27.5% of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past month, according to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit tobacco control organization.
The state of Colorado recently sued JUUL for knowingly marketed misleading information to young people and used flavored vape juices to get young people addicted to nicotine.
A total of 2,807 cases or deaths associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as of Feb. 18. Clearly, the use of e-cigarettes spiked, and in the midst of the pandemic, this trend can prove deadly.
When users inhale substances, such as tobacco smoke or vape emissions, their airways become inflamed. The presence of this inflammation in the face of an additional insult, like the SARS-CoV-2 virus, makes it harder for their lungs to combat the invading virus and sets up the risk for many severe complications, according to the American Lung Association.
The current research shows that, although smoking doesn't necessarily make a person more likely to contract COVID-19, it sets them up for more severe symptoms if they contract the virus.
In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine on June 18, smokers admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 were 1.79 times more likely to die than non-smokers. A study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research out of the University of California, San Francisco found that smoking was associated with almost a doubling of the risk of COVID-19 progressing.
The research showing the detrimental effects of smoking cigarettes related to COVID-19 is definitely more substantive than that of vaping, but given some of the similar effects on the body, researchers are able to make educated guesses. A study in The BMJ found that e-cigarette vapor increases the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals and weakens protective cells in the lungs. The authors concluded with a warning message to current vapers around the world.
"While further research is needed to fully understand the effects of e-cigarette exposure in humans in vivo, we caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe," the authors wrote.
“We have long known that quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health. And it’s especially important now,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. “Quitting smoking and vaping can better equip your body to fight off this disease and reduce the chance of the most severe symptoms."
Interestingly enough, some researchers have reported an inverse relationship between current smoking and mortality from COVID-19, meaning smokers had better prognoses than non-smokers. However, the team admitted that there are "too few smokers in the population to produce such a large effect, and it is reasonable to assume there is a confounding influence."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified smokers as a high-risk group of people for severe illnesses if they happen to contract the disease. Even with safe social distancing and hand-washing practices, excessive smoking or vaping can lead to detrimental effects on the immune and respiratory systems, leaving a patient more susceptible to succumbing to the virus.
Arizona, one of the nation's current hotspots, recently crossed a total of 100,000 confirmed cases and is nearing 2,000 total confirmed deaths from the virus. As of July 6, the state's intensive care unit beds reached 90% capacity.
Follow Amit Syal on Twitter