Stanford-led study finds vaping significantly increases risk of COVID-19 in teens

Youth ages 13-24 who vape are up to seven times more likely to be diagnosed with the virus

The dangerous health risks associated with vaping are widely known and now, research led by scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine shows a new and timely danger: teens and young adults who vape are at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

The study, published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that among people between the ages of 13 and 24 who had been tested for COVID-19 in May 2020, those who vaped were five to seven times more likely to have the virus than those who did not. The research also suggests that young people who vaped were more likely to be tested for the virus at all, presumably because the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19, such as coughing, are common among those who use e-cigarettes.

A press release from Stanford Medicine quotes study authors Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine, and postdoctoral scholar Shivani Mathur Gaiha, PhD, about the findings:

“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,” said the study’s senior author, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, professor of pediatrics.  

“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,” said the study’s lead author, postdoctoral scholar Shivani Mathur Gaiha, PhD.

“This study tells us pretty clearly that youth who are using vapes or are dual-using [vapes and cigarettes] are at elevated risk, and it’s not just a small increase in risk, it’s a big one,” Gaiha said.

Youth who reported ever using e-cigarettes were 5 times more likely to be positive for COVID-19 than non-users, and those who had used both vaping products and conventional cigarettes in the last 30 days were close to 7 times more likely to be diagnosed.

Dr. Halpern-Felsher is hopeful that this research will catch the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and encourage additional restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes, particularly when it comes to young people.

“Now is the time,” she says. “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.”

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