Smokers and Vapers May Be At Greater Risk for Covid-19

People who smoke and vape may be at greater risk of Covid-19. The coronavirus attacks the lungs, and smoking and vaping can exacerbate the risks associated with this disease, the risk of getting the virus and the risk of spreading the disease. (New York Times, April 13, 2020)

Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, the director of pediatric research at the Tobacco and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital is quoted in the NYT article as saying that “quitting during this pandemic could not only save your life but by preventing the need for your treatment in a hospital, you might also save someone else’s life.” Dr Winickoff was joined by the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healy and they issued the following advisory: “You bring a vaping device or a cigarette to your mouth and do so repeatedly. You touch the cartridge. You put it next to your face. You are spreading whatever is in your hand into your body. At the same time, many of my patients who smoke or vape have increased coughing and expectorating. And that’s a recipe for increased spread.”

There are studies that already show that cigarette smoking weakens the immune system and compromises lung function. Unfortunately, since vaping is relatively new, research is limited but early studies suggest that e-cigarettes may cause inflammation in the airways and lungs. It was also found that flavored tobacco products and products containing THC which are popular among teens can exacerbate lung infections. These factors make smokers and vapers more susceptible to the coronavirus infection and once infected these patients may have a harder time resisting the virus. Although there is no research on this yet, there is speculation among the medical community that the high numbers of young people who have contracted Covid-19 may be connected to their vaping and their use of marijuana.

Currently, five million middle and high school students report having vaped nicotine and marijuana products. An outbreak of lung illnesses last summer was traced to vaping marijuana oils that contained the additive vitamin E acetate. Dr. Winickoff said “Inhaling combusted or vaped cannabis products can damage lung cells, may in-crease viral replication, and does affect the ability to fight off infection. Clean air is what the lungs should be inhaling during a global pandemic.”

Dr. Alicia Casey who directs the pulmonary vaping program at the Boston Children’s Hospital, says that it is challenging to get teenagers to quit vaping because vaping paraphernalia is “everywhere” in a teen’s world, including school and at social gatherings. Dr. Casey had hoped that social distancing would help teens quit. However, she says “But I often see that they’re more anxious now, and they’re vaping more frequently.” She advises, “If parents notice that happening, they should speak with their kids about the risks of Covid-19 and other pulmonary com-plications to vapers.” Dr. Casey went on to say that she had several teenagers over the winter who had more trouble with the influenza than they should have. “Since Covid-19 can be similar to a severe influenza, I worry about those underlying lung issues from vaping.”