Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, pulmonologists and pediatricians were battling another national health crisis. The “epidemic,” or teen vaping. more than five million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes last year. They inhaled nicotine-filled liquids without knowing the long-term consequences.
When a new virus sent dozens of patients with failing lungs to hospital, doctors worried about the newly-addicted generation.
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine released a study on Tuesday that may confirm fears of parents and physicians across the country. The risk of coronavirus is not small. Tested teens and young adults were five to seven time more likely to have coronavirus than those who did not use e-cigarettes.
Bonnie Halpern, senior author of the study and professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, said: “We were shocked.” “We were expecting to see a relationship …., but not at the odds and significance we are seeing here.”
This is the first study to examine the relationship between vaping, coronavirus and young people. It was based on surveys of 4,351 participants aged 13-24 from 50 states in the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia, and three U.S. Territories. The study found that among the tested participants, those who have ever used an ecig were five times as likely to develop coronavirus. Those who used both regular cigarettes and ecigs within the past 30 days are 6.8 times more likely.
Vapers may be at increased risk of transmission for several reasons. Experts say that e-cigarettes damage the lungs and alter immune systems, which makes each coronavirus infection more likely. HalpernFelsher explained that it is possible for the aerosol emitted by e-cigarettes to contain coronavirus droplets, which can then be inhaled or spread. Vaping social norms, such as hand-to mouth contact and passing ecigs among friends, are high-risk pandemic behaviors. With a mask, it’s difficult to exhale smoke.
Experts say that more research is required to fully understand the medical relationship of coronavirus with vaping. The risk is still evident, even after taking into consideration variables such as race, gender, COVID-19 rates in each state, and the compliance with shelter-in place orders. Researchers hope that these findings will encourage regulators to tighten regulations for these devices. The study shows that vaping is not only a risk to the individual, but it’s also a risk for public health.
Jonathan Winickoff is a professor of pediatrics and a massgeneral hospital for children. He said that using e-cigarettes was like wearing ‘the anti-mask. If we can curb vaping among youth, then we have made a significant contribution to the fight against the epidemic.
Teen vapers are a growing concern
Sophia Beerel was just 14 years old when she had her first e-cigarette. It was a sweet head rush that came with few warnings. The impulsive use of a friend’s e-cigarette during a bathroom break in science class was the beginning.
Beerel said, “I knew that it was more than just water.” He is now 16 years old. “I knew that it was some kind of juice. I didn’t know how much nicotine it contained. “I didn’t know what nicotine was.”
She continued, “I was like… whatever… better than smoking.” “That’s all people said.”
The battle against nicotine addiction began. She blew out candles to cover up the smell from her exhalations, despite her parents’ “nicotine talks”. She tried to stop smoking at 15 and experienced withdrawal symptoms such as jitters, nervousness and shaking. She was only forced to stop smoking when her luggage, which was stocked with pods, was lost during a 5-week vacation.
Beerel has mostly stopped smoking e-cigarettes. She used to smoke a pod every 10 days, which is equivalent to four packs of cigarettes. Now she only uses them for nostalgic reasons. Beerel was worried when the pandemic started that her old habit would put her at risk.
Beerel said, “It’s frightening for everyone.” I did think about how much my lungs were compromised.
Winickoff, the doctor who treats her, is also concerned. Winickoff, who began treating children as infants, has watched them turn to ecigarettes over the last few years. He’s seen teenagers lose their breath when climbing a flight stairs, athletes with no stamina for sports, and countless photos of damaged lungs. He says that he is more concerned than ever about the use of tobacco by teens.
Winickoff said, “This is the dangerous convergence of two crises – the epidemic of youth use of ecigarettes combined with the pandemic COVID-19.”
Stanford’s study sheds light on the potential dangers of mixing e-cigarettes and cigarettes. Participants who had used e-cigarettes and cigarettes in the past 30 days were almost five times as likely to have COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing, fatigue, fever and difficulty breathing.
HalpernFelsher stated, “I believe our findings send a strong message to parents, teens, and health care providers.” If you vape and smoke, this is another sign that the products harm your body and lungs.
A spokesperson for the FDA could not comment specifically on the study, but did say that the agency would review it. The spokesperson stated that COVID-19 may increase the risk of infection for people who smoke. The spokesperson said that it was not known if the same applies to e-cigarettes.
The spokesperson stated that “e-cigarettes can expose the lungs to toxic chemicals, but it is unknown whether these exposures increase COVID-19 risk or severity of COVID-19 outcomes.” The spokesperson said that many ecigarette users were former or current smokers. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk for respiratory infections including pneumonia. E-cigarettes are not for youth, pregnant women, or adults who don’t currently smoke tobacco.
Stanford’s study did not examine a possible link between COVID-19 diagnoses and conventional cigarette use by study participants. HalpernFelsher suggests that this may be due to the fact that most nicotine-using teens either use e cigs exclusively or both e cigs as well as traditional cigarettes. However, few youth use conventional cigarettes.
‘A one-two punch’
Stanford’s study is primarily focused on transmission. However, experts have concerns about e-cigs that go beyond this. A study published by the University of San Francisco in July suggests that smoking, including using e-cigarettes doubles the risk of young adults getting sick with the coronavirus. This is the “most predominant factor” for young adults to be vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illnesses.
Colin Finnerty can’t shake the thought of it. Finnerty, 21, was one of the very first people to contract coronavirus in March. He said doctors found a small infection in the bottom left lung of Finnerty, which spread quickly to both sides. He was isolated in hospital for six days, on oxygen, and worried that he would die.
Finnerty stated, “As a 21-year old, I shouldn’t be spending six-days in the hospital due to lung complications.” “I was told that statistically I was fine. “But I found out very quickly that this was incorrect.”
Finnerty does not look like the typical coronavirus sufferer. He’s generally healthy. He works at a resort, and in his spare time he enjoys skateboarding, snowboarding, and swimming. He has been vaping ever since he turned 17. He said that for over three years he vaped from the moment he awoke to the minute he went to sleep.
There is a lack of data on the medical link between vaping and coronavirus. Finnerty is still concerned that his ecigarette addiction could have made his coronavirus diagnoses into a life-threatening situation.
Finnerty said, “It is strange to think that if I had not bought my first [e-cigarette], maybe this wouldn’t have occurred.” “Or, at least, not as brutally as what happened,”
Winickoff says that existing research indicates that the lungs of a smoker are particularly susceptible to coronavirus infections. Smoking paralyzes the cilia, which are tiny hair-like fibers in the lungs that remove mucus and pathogens. This makes them less effective at protecting against infections. It can also cause coronaviruses to more easily bind to the lungs, Winickoff explained. This means that a small dose of virus will be more likely to lead to an infection.
Winickoff stated that it takes a smaller virus to cause disease in smokers. “And, in general, the more viral load there is, the greater the problem …. It’s a two-pronged attack.
E-cigarettes may also cause an immune system to weaken and cause conditions such as asthma, which can make it more difficult to fight off the virus. Some worry that tobacco and nicotine is just the start. Many of these devices are not being systematically checked. A large part of them come from overseas factories. Experts found carcinogens and heavy metals in the devices, as well as toxic chemicals, herbicides and chemicals that cause heart and lung diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control informed NBC News that it does not list e-cigarette usage as a condition which increases the risk of severe COVID-19 infections.
The CDC stated that it would not comment on studies led by external parties, such as Stanford’s new study, but was currently collecting data on COVID-19 and vaping.
The CDC said that it would continue to make evidence-based recommendations to the public, health departments, and clinicians as more data is reported on tobacco-related indicators, such as smoking status and ecigarette use.
I honestly believe that the FDA has lost its focus.
Experts say that a fivefold increase in coronavirus sensitivity is an alarming statistic for young users of e-cigarettes, but it should also concern regulators. In the National Youth Tobacco Survey, over one-fourth of high school students admitted to using e cigarettes. When schools reopen, and teens vape unchecked by parents, teachers and the public at large, transmission rates may increase.
Halpern-Felsher says that the Stanford study highlights the need to crack down on teen ecigarette use.
HalpernFelsher: “I think the FDA is a bit off the ball. It was really before the pandemic.”
HalpernFelsher’s sentiment is not unique; many supporters feel that regulation of ecigarettes has been slow and limited. In January of this year, the FDA banned most flavored cartridges. This included popular “gateway flavors” like mango and mint. The ban did not apply to some products such as menthol cartridges and tobacco cartridges. It also didn’t apply to flavored “open-tank” ejuice or disposable ecigarettes.
In these loopholes, a new set of brands have already emerged. There have been a variety of ways to get around the epidemic, including flavors such as cotton candy, green apple candy and banana candy.
In July, FDA sent letters of warning to 10 companies notifying them to remove flavored disposables or e-liquids that appealed to youth from the market. An FDA spokesperson told NBC News that the agency’s top priority is to protect youths from products which pose a high risk of initiation or usage by minors.
The FDA spokesperson stated that the FDA prioritizes enforcement against ecigarette products. This includes those that are most appealing to and accessible to young people. We are concerned by the popularity of these products with youth. We want to let all tobacco product producers and retailers know that the FDA will be keeping a close eye on the market and holding companies accountable, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
HalpernFelsher says that the existing measures are not enough.
HalpernFelsher stated, “The cigarette industry is the Wild Wild West.” “As soon you take one product off of the market, another one is on.” “We need to stop whack-a-mole, we need regulation and to stop the entire market for ecigarettes.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer policy sent a letter on Tuesday to the FDA, citing a new Stanford study. In April , Krishnamoorthi wrote to the FDA about the possibility that e-cigarettes could exacerbate the pandemic of coronavirus. However, the FDA declined to take action citing a lack of conclusive data on the subject.
Krishnamoorthi wrote: “Today we have the proof that the FDA has been waiting for and it cannot deny the dangers e-cigarettes present during the coronavirus crises.” “[I]t’s evident that the youth vaping crisis has combined forces with a coronavirus epidemic, creating a more deadly foe that requires FDA action.”
The patchwork of regulation has so far shaken the companies but not the addicts. The number of teens using e-cigarettes has risen and fallen over the years, but e-cigarette brands have risen and fallen.
Beerel, Finnerty and others feel the need to speak out about e-cigarettes. However, both struggled to give up their habit. Finnerty has been diagnosed with PTSD and told others to avoid the same situation. He also advised them to stop using e-cigarettes.
Finnerty said, “Easier to say than do.” “But I hope people will consider the fact that they put themselves at greater risk.”
Coronavirus is just one of many risks that teens vape. Beerel says that the Stanford study’s results are particularly shocking. It is not a remote risk. It is not a minor risk. It’s also not only a risk for teens who live with their parents and interact with the community.
Beerel said, “It’s made me feel at least thankful that I didn’t get it yet and a bit worried for myself and my classmates.” Because COVID-19, a nasty illness…is already contagious. It’s shocking to think it could be more contagious because of vaping.