As a pediatrician, I’ve been concerned about vaping for a long time. The most recent data suggests that over 5 million high schoolers are vaping – and contrary to what they might believe, it’s not a harmless habit. By February of this year, over 2,700 people had been hospitalized with e-cigarette associated lung disease, and there were almost 70 deaths. Though, admittedly, there is much we are still learning, it’s clear that vaping causes health problems.
But now, there is another serious danger related to vaping – COVID-19.
There’s a lot we don’t yet know about COVID-19, but what we do know is that serious illness from it usually involves the lungs, difficulty breathing, and potentially being put on a ventilator to help with breathing. And we know that any underlying disease can put you at greater risk for COVID-19.
Michael Felberbaum, an FDA spokesman, said in an email to Bloomberg that chronic lung disease can put you at risk for serious problems if infected with coronavirus. “This includes people who smoke and/or vape tobacco or nicotine-containing products.”
In a JAMA case study, the death rate for those who had underlying lung disease was 6.3 percent, much higher than those who did not. Vaping and cigarette use causes damage to the lungs, making a person much more vulnerable to the worst of COVD-19’s effects.
And then there is sharing. Vaping often, especially for teens, means sharing the same e-cigarette, which can transmit infection too. A person who does not have symptoms – and some studies have shown that 20-25% of people with COVID-19 infection do not – could potentially spread the infection by sharing their vape with someone else.
So, what can you do?
- Try not to smoke, vape or even inhale marijuana products until more is known about COVID-19. Data will come out soon about people who were hospitalized. Until then, to prevent further damage to your lungs, put that cigarette down.
- Parents – try re-opening the vaping discussion. This is a great time to talk about the effects it can have on your lungs. I spoke to my teens the other day telling them any inhaled products, whether it’s e-cigarettes, cigarettes, THC, or marijuana, can cause damage to the lungs. And that puts you in the danger zone for the virus.
- Try to spread the word. People are stressed and this may be a time that vaping or smoking marijuana may seem like a relief. Unfortunately, it could be just the opposite. Let your friends and neighbors know that saying no to smoking is another important pillar in the prevention of COVID-19 infection.
Especially now, we must be cautious and mindful about what we do and the risks we take. Smoking – or having your lungs exposed to any types of irritants – can strip them of the natural defenses that we carry against viruses, toxins, and infections.