- Data on cigarette smoking and COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, suggests people with smoking habits of any kind could be at risk for severe illness.
- Vaping regularly could also make the lungs more vulnerable to infection, doctors told Insider.
- They recommend that people curb their smoking and vaping habits during the coronavirus pandemic in order to protect their health.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In recent years, e-cigarettes and vapes have skyrocketed in popularity, while the rapid legalization of marijuana has made it easier than ever for people to obtain the drug.
But the coronavirus pandemic is bringing to light how these substances could make people more susceptible to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as well as severe symptoms like shortness of breath and respiratory failure.
Data on susceptibility to COVID-19 is thin. Researchers have barely started to understand how the disease works, let alone how it is influenced by habits such as smoking or vaping.
But lung health experts say they don’t need coronavirus-specific data to warn people that marijuana vapes, e-cigarettes, and other forms of smoking aren’t a good idea right now.
Here’s what we know so far about smoking and vaping various substances and COVID-19 risk.
Data suggests that people with underlying lung conditions are more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19. Longtime smokers often have these conditions.
Preliminary CDC data has found that chronic lung diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and emphysema, are common underlying conditions in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US.
“The lung disease you usually get from smoking and vaping and marijuana doesn’t occur until you’ve smoked for a number of years and it very slowly develops,” Make said. “A lot of lung disease related to these inhalants are silent until they’re very far advanced.”
Smoking both tobacco and marijuana products injures the lungs and makes recovering from respiratory infections more difficult.
Smoking tobacco or marijuana could make a person’s COVID-19 symptoms worse compared to a non-smoker, Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonologist and national spokesperson for the American Lung Association, previously told Insider.
Galiatsatos said that people who smoke marijuana or tobacco regularly are more likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms because evidence suggests smoking in general can cause cells in the lungs to die.
These cells typically promote germ removal and immune system response, so having fewer of them could lead to chronic health problems like respiratory infections.
Studies on smoking and COVID-19 suggest people who smoke marijuana and tobacco together may be at risk.
Although there’s no data on marijuana use and COVID-19 patients specifically, marijuana smokers – particularly ones who combine cannabis with tobacco – should be wary of their habits because of existing data on coronavirus patients in Italy and China, Make said.
Two studies from China found that men were more likely than women to get sick with COVID-19, and since a 2010 national survey of smoking in China found that 62% of Chinese men had been tobacco smokers at some point, while only 3% of Chinese women had ever smoked, it’s likely that smoking played a factor in coronavirus risk.
“From China and Italy, we see people who developed COVID-19 and had underlying lung disease, [they] have more complications and die more often,” Make said. “So this is the perfect time to stop smoking.”
Aerosolised particles inhaled by vape users can also injure the lungs and make them vulnerable to disease. This is true for both nicotine and marijuana vapes.
Previous studies have shown regular vaping can damage the lungs, and since a large number of coronavirus patients in critical condition have underlying lung issues, doctors are concerned about how vaping could make the lung more susceptible to complications.
“If you get the infection and you have good, healthy lungs that aren’t being combated every day by toxins, whether it’s from inhaled marijuana or inhaled combustible cigarettes or inhaled electronic cigarettes, you’re allowing your lungs to be at the best capacity they can to try and fight off this infection,” Galiatsatos said.
For these reasons, lung doctors recommend smokers and vape users decrease or stop their habits, at least during the pandemic.
“I would plead with everyone to do what you can in a time like this,” Galiatsatos said.
“I know I’m a lung doctor and this is coming off very biased, but this virus will destroy this organ if it finds any susceptibility, so please keep that in mind.”
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