In a wide-ranging study in September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that 3.6 million youths in the United States are avid users of e-cigarettes.
If that figure isn’t unsettling enough, then a study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine is suggesting that these young people are at a substantially higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. If infected, then they will have a more difficult time fighting off the disease.
The research, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is considered to be the first to examine the burgeoning links between youth vaping and the coronavirus.
For the study, the researchers tapped into U.S. population-based data collected during the ten-month-long pandemic, and more than forty-three hundred children and young adults between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four from all fifty states participated in the study’s surveys. Roughly half of the participants identified themselves as smokers.
What they eventually found was that individuals who vaped were five to seven times more likely to be infected by the virus than those who did not use e-cigarettes. Moreover, they were nearly five times more likely to exhibit symptoms.
“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,” the study’s senior author Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a developmental psychologist and professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, said in a press statement.
According to the researchers, there could be several reasons for vapers’ heightened risk of contracting the coronavirus. One is that e-cigarettes are harmful to the lungs and eventually alter the immune system, making each exposure to the contagion more likely to trigger an infection.
Another possibility is that aerosol particles emitted from e-cigarettes could have droplets ladened with the virus, which could then be spread to another person nearby.
“It’s very well established that COVID-19 spreads by close contact . . . and this is exactly the kind of close contact that makes this pandemic worse,” Dr. Ian Kim, a physician and a professor at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, told the National Interest.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Shivani Mathur Gaiha, believes that the mindsets of today’s youths need to change.
“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,” she said in a release.
“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.”
Dr. Jason Keonin, of Northwest Iowa Surgeons PC, told the National Interest that his “message to young people is that even though they are at low risk for severe illness, they have to act responsibly to limit the spread and protect their older loved ones.”
He added: “The better we can control the virus, the sooner life will return to normal for them.”
The researchers also noted that they hope their findings will push the FDA to further tighten regulations regarding 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.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.