Recent data indicates that more than five million U.S. high school and middle school students use e-cigarettes, and according to a new study, these children are at a substantially higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
The study, led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is considered to be the first to examine links between youth vaping and the coronavirus.
The researchers tapped into U.S. population-based data collected during the ongoing pandemic, and more than 4,300 children and young adults between the ages thirteen and twenty-four from all fifty states participated in the study’s surveys.
What they discovered 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.
“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,” Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and the study’s senior author, said in a release.
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 containing the virus, which could then be spread to another person nearby.
“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,” the study’s lead author Dr. Shivani Mathur Gaiha 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.”
The researchers also noted that they hope their findings will push the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 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.