Vaping, Your Lungs and Coronavirus

Lungs shape smoke
Photo by Pascal Kiszon/iStockPhoto.com
 

Is there a the relationship between vaping, your lungs and coronavirus? Yes, and it’s very simple to explain. COVID-19 resulting from exposure to a novel coronavirus is an illness that attacks the lungs. A person with unhealthy lungs is at a greater risk of more serious effects if they get sick with this disease. If vaping harms the lungs then a person who vapes may be putting themselves at risk for a more severe case of COVID-19.

Let’s take a closer look at this subject and check out the possible connections between vaping and lung health.

Lung Impairment and COVID-19

According to Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

“It is… reasonable to be concerned that compromised lung function or lung disease related to smoking history, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), could put people at risk for serious complications of COVID-19.”

Probably every smoker knows that cigarettes harm the health of their lungs but it may not be as well known that vaping is also likely to cause lung injury.

“… emerging evidence suggests that exposure
to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung
and diminishes the ability to respond to infection.”

Dr. Volkow goes on to state that: “Vaping, like smoking, may also harm lung health. Whether it can lead to COPD is still unknown, but emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection.”

The most important part of that quote lies right at the end: “…diminishes the ability to respond to infection.” For a person to protect themselves from COVID-19 or any respiratory infection, they must have a robust immune system and a vigorous ability to respond to any infections they are exposed to.

EVALI = Lung Injury from Vaping

Information on the association between vaping and COVID-19 is now accumulating fairly rapidly. Scientists have created a specific name for lung injury caused by vaping: e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury. This is shortened down to EVALI. In the summer of 2019, this condition was determined to be the reason that more than 2,800 people were hospitalized. Sixty-eight of these people died.

Legal California Cannabis Vapes
Photo by RJ Johnson 420MediaCo/iStockPhoto.com
 

Some of the damage resulting from vaping was traced to the vitamin E acetate that is used in these products to turn THC and nicotine into liquids that can be consumed in e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported that 50% of THC products contain this chemical. Neither this chemical nor the flavorings used in e-cigarettes have been tested to determine their effects when they are inhaled. So they could be harming people who vape without their realizing it.

By 2019, 25% of high school seniors reported that they had vaped nicotine products in the past month. This figure has doubled since 2017. About eight percent of these students said they vaped marijuana.

Tobacco or Cannabis Products?

Does it make a difference what a person is vaping? In other words, is one substance safer to vape than anything other? There aren’t any studies yet to tell us for sure. But according to Dr. Alicia Casey of Boston Children’s Hospital, marijuana products may pose a greater risk than tobacco products. Dr. Casey’s focus is on treating children with lung disease.

In her work for Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Casey has had ample opportunity to treat young people who have damaged their lungs with vaping. She reported that her young patients who vaped suffered more severe and prolonged flu symptoms than other patients with influenza. And these unusually sick teens were more frequently being admitted to the hospital.

It would be inaccurate to think that vaping marijuana is safer or “healthier” than vaping THC. Of her patients treated for EVALI, 85% reported that they vaped THC products. Only 15% reported that they only vaped tobacco products.

This is not conclusive science. But it’s enough information to suspect a close association between EVALI and serious or even life-threatening effects if a person is infected with COVID-19.

So What is the Association Between Vaping and Respiratory Illness?

While we don’t actually yet have enough science to prove that vaping increases the severity of COVID-19, we do have some fundamental data related to lungs, vaping and COVID-19—enough to make some conclusions about the best way to manage our own health.

We know that smokers contract more respiratory ailments than non-smokers. Smokers also have twice the rate of flu and higher rates of bacterial pneumonia and tuberculosis.

We also know that in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, doctors found that smoking was consistently associated with a greater risk of progression of the illness compared to those who improved.

Building Up Your Own Health

Want to give yourself the best chance of avoiding infection with coronavirus? Or if you do get sick with this virus, want to have the mildest possible illness and best chance of rapid recovery? Consider putting down the cigarettes—either e-cigarettes or conventional ones.

Actually, being housebound or isolated from your usual friends could make it easier to put down the cigarette. Some people might vape less because they are not socializing with other people who are vaping. But for other people, it could be harder to stop consuming nicotine or THC. These people might vape as much as usual or even more to help them deal with increased anxiety resulting from our unusual circumstances.

One more thing to consider: Maybe you don’t smoke or vape but someone close to you does. Secondhand smoke exposure is also associated with diminished lung function and illness. If you are around secondhand smoke every day, you could still be damaging your ability to fight off respiratory illness, even if you don’t smoke yourself.

Whether or not you vape is your choice. At this time, with the threat of COVID-19, you might consider pampering your lungs by giving them nothing but the freshest air possible.


Sources:


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS

AUTHOR

Karen

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.