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Vapers and Smokers Could Be at Risk of COVID-19

By José Escobedo | Wed, 04/15/2020 - 16:38

If you vape or smoke, doctors highly recommend you stop now. For people who are addicted to vaping or cigarette smoking, there has never been a most perfect time to quit. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that young people might be at more risk of contracting COVID-19 than previously thought.

According to CDC, more than a third of patients who have contracted the virus are 45 and under and one in five have required hospitalization. Scientists do not have sufficient data to know why young people are getting sick. Some researchers claim that the practice of smoking cigarettes and vaping could be setting a fire that might not extinguish.

Scientists report that COVID-19 infects the upper or lower part of a person’s respiratory tract. While it travels down the airways, the lining becomes irritated and inflamed, sometimes reaching all the way down into the alveoli. (Alveoli are an important part of the respiratory system whose function is to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules to and from the bloodstream).

The World Health Organization reports that cigarette smokers are likely to have more serious illnesses if they become infected with COVID-19. Experts say that vaping can also cause dangerous lung and respiratory problems and could heighten COVID-19 symptoms. Nevertheless, further long-term vaping studies will need to be done to find out a correlation between COVID-19 symptoms and the practice of vaping.

Last year a number of teen hospitalizations occurred all across the world due to vaping, the majority of these cases were caused by what the CDC warns a life-threatening vaping illness called EVALI, or “E-cigarette or Vaping-Associated Lung Injury.” Columbia University pediatrician Dr. Alok Patel, explains that cases of EVALI provide very real evidence that vaping can cause direct lung damage, which puts e-cigarette users in the “high-risk bracket” of those most vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19.

“We know that e-cigarettes include chemicals such as propylene glycol, glycerol and flavorings. These chemicals have the ability to go deep into your lungs and cause damage,” Dr. Patel told ABC News. “When people become critically ill from COVID-19, this also involves the deep pockets of their lungs. It’s really scary to think about what could be happening in those that have both of these going on together.” To make matters even worse, most e-cigarette products contain large amounts of nicotine, which can significantly harm the body’s immune system.

Whether there is a correlation between vaping and COVID-19, it is still a speculation. Nevertheless, in recent weeks, news reports have shown that young, hospitalized COVID-19 patients also vaped. It is important to highlight that the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that people that have substance-use disorders, including those who vape, could be especially affected by COVID-19.

It has been widely reported that SARS-CoV-2 causes mild symptoms for many. But those with underlying health issues that include respiratory problems related to smoking or vaping may possibly be at a higher risk for severe symptoms. “COVID-19 attacks the lungs and anything that weakens and harms the lungs makes you more vulnerable," says Matt Myers, President of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Tomorrow . "There is no action other than smoking that causes more harm to the lungs and increasingly we are learning vaping does as well.” According to Myers, studies report that people who smoke and are exposed to COVID-19 will most likely present more severe symptoms than those with no smoking history.

The bad news is in. Scientists in Canada found smokers and people with lung disease to have higher levels of a specific molecule in their lungs, which creates an entry point for the COVID-19. The European Respiratory Journal also published a study and reported that smokers have higher levels of the ACE2 enzyme that SARS-CoV-2 uses to get into lung cells. It concluded that by having more of those entry points could make smokers more susceptible to infection. The University of North Carolina published a study in July 2016 in the American Journal of Physiology, reporting that e-cigarette vapor weakens cilia (hair-like projections that work to keep the airways clear of mucus and dirt, allowing people to breathe easily and without irritation).

Ilona Jaspers, a pediatrician, toxicologist, and Deputy Director of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology, says these lipid layers, cilia, macrophages and neutrophils are like guard dogs patrolling a gate: “They are the lungs’ first line of defense. They’re all compromised by e-cigarettes,” she says.

"It shouldn’t be a surprise that smokers and eventually vapers are more at risk of severe consequences,” Myers said. “For those who get the disease, they are more likely to go to the hospital and end up in intensive care." For many that have been wanting to stop smoking or vaping, it may take a global pandemic to finally quit.

 

 

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Smokefree.gov, WebMD, bmj.com, scientificamerican.com, wired.com, verywellhealth.com
Photo by:   PIxabay
José Escobedo José Escobedo Senior Editorial Manager