Student Well-Being

Can Vaping Put Teenagers at Greater Risk of Getting Seriously Ill With Coronavirus?

By Arianna Prothero — April 16, 2020 2 min read

While young people are generally shaking off the coronavirus without getting seriously ill, vaping may put them at more of a risk.

The rapid rise of e-cigarette use among middle and high school students was already a major concern to schools before the pandemic, and now some medical experts—including the American Lung Association—are warning that smoking e-cigarettes could increase the likelihood of developing more serious complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In 2018, 3.6 million middle and high schoolers reported vaping, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 2019, that number had grown to 5.4 million. Among high school students, 1 out of every 4 reported in 2019 having used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, according to the CDC.

Schools have been trying to tamp down on the rise of vaping among students including, in some cases, installing vaping detecting devices in bathrooms and suing e-cigarette manufacturers.

Even before the coronavirus, educators and health experts were concerned about the lasting effects of vaping—both from the highly concentrated nicotine and the chemicals found in e-cigarettes.

Teens, on the other hand, are often unaware of the hazards of vaping. Sixty-six percent believe their e-cigarettes contain just flavoring, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Can Vaping Make Coronavirus Worse?

While there isn’t the research yet showing a direct link between vaping and falling seriously ill with COVID-19, health experts are still raising the alarm based on what they do know about vaping, the coronavirus, and the lungs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse warned in a statement it put out in early April that “emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection.”

Because the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 attacks the lungs, it could be an “especially serious threat” to those who vape, the NIDA said.

“Let me put it this way, I think there isn’t an infectious disease or a pulmonary specialist that would disagree with the fact that when you weaken the lungs, through whatever means you weaken it by, you’re going to be at risk for a more serious bout of coronavirus and a higher probability of winding up in the hospital and a higher probability of fatality,” said Robert Klesges, a professor at the University of Virginia Cancer Center.

Another concern, said Klesges, is that many e-cigarette users graduate on to regular cigarettes, which could be even worse on the lungs and the body’s ability to fight off the coronavirus. Thirty percent of teenagers who start vaping, according to the NIDA, progress to traditional cigarettes within six months.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.