Early in the pandemic, one theory as to why young Americans seemed to be harder hit by the novel coronavirus than teens and twentysomethings in other countries was high rates of vaping. Now, there’s data to back it up.
In a survey of 4,351 Americans ages 13 to 24, those who used e-cigarettes were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 than those who didn’t. It’s not just an issue of displaying more symptoms like coughing — which vapers did — and consequently getting tested more — which vapers were. Simply comparing Covid-19 test results of vapers and non-vapers, e-cigarette users were five times more likely to test positive. If they’d used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, their positive rates jumped to nearly sevenfold higher.
Vaping doesn’t directly cause Covid-19, though, and users and non-users reported adhering to shelter-in-place guidelines equally. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, a developmental psychologist at Stanford University who led the study, has a few theories that might explain the link.
- Vaping impacts the immune system, so if someone is exposed to the virus, they could be more likely to come down with Covid-19.
- Teens frequently share vaping products, so they could have more virus exposure from their friends.
- Vaping requires touching one’s mouth, again increasing chances of exposure.
- If someone is infected, vaping produces aerosols that could carry the virus farther than breathing, more easily infecting others.
Halpern-Felsher hopes the pandemic will prompt parents to talk to their teens about vaping risks. “We really need to help teens understand that smoking and vaping are harmful for the lungs in general, but then you couple that with Covid-19 and you’re really looking at some pretty harmful behaviors,” she says. “I think this is an opportunity for us to have this discussion.”