E-cigarettes or vape pens may put users with underlying health conditions at greater risk for severe complications should they contract the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns. The increasing prevalence of youth e-cigarette use across the United States has raised serious concerns about the potential health risks of vaping, and these concerns are particularly pressing now, considering the novel coronavirus is known to attack the lungs. Vaping, like smoking, has been linked to an increased risk of respiratory problems in users and some public health officials are warning that vaping could potentially make coronavirus cases more severe.
E-cigarettes have emerged as the most common tobacco product used among teens and youth and some health experts have speculated that the prevalence of e-cigarette use in the United States may be causing an unexpected hike in the number of younger patients being hospitalized with COVID-19. Last month, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published an article on the potential implications of COVID-19 for individuals with substance use disorders, warning that the coronavirus “could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.” Said FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum in an email to Bloomberg, “People with underlying health issues, such as heart or lung problems, may have increased risk for serious complications from COVID-19. This includes people who smoke and/or vape tobacco or nicotine-containing products.”
The potential link between vaping and coronavirus complications boils down to the effect of the virus on the lungs. According to lung pathologist Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, MD, the virus causes a serious and potentially fatal condition known as acute respiratory distress syndrome. “COVID-19 attacks the lungs and anything that weakens and harms the lungs makes you more vulnerable,” says Matt Myers, the 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.” In addition to harming the cells of the lungs, emerging evidence suggests that “exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes […] diminishes the [body’s] ability to respond to infection,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse article.
For years, e-cigarette devices have been aggressively marketed by their manufacturers as less risky than smoking combustible cigarettes. In fact, many people who currently vape started because they believed the devices were safer than cigarette smoking. What many e-cigarette users don’t realize is that JUUL and other vape pens still contain nicotine, the addictive drug in combustible cigarettes and other tobacco products. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they also contain flavorings and other potentially harmful chemicals that make the aerosol, which users inhale into their lungs.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, lawmakers are concerned that smoking or vaping could cause the virus to spread more quickly and overwhelm an already strained health care system by causing more people to fall ill. In an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the House Oversight Committee urged the FDA in a letter last week to “clear the market” of e-cigarettes, which could make users more susceptible to COVID-19 and the more serious complications of the virus.
The makers of JUUL and other popular e-cigarettes already face hundreds of lawsuits filed by school districts and parents of nicotine-addicted teens who claim that the manufacturing companies deliberately marketed their products to minors. And as the number of vaping injury lawsuits continues to grow nationwide, some plaintiffs involved in the litigation are now including complications from the novel coronavirus among the issues for which they are seeking damages from e-cigarette manufacturers. In an amended complaint filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the plaintiffs included claims about the virus, stating that “JUUL users are at greater risk of suffering more serious complications if they contract the coronavirus.” As of April 11, the coronavirus has sickened more than 1.7 million people worldwide and resulted in more than 107,000 deaths.