A Stanford University study found those who vaped were five times more likely to be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus than non-users, prompting some United States lawmakers to try to temporarily ban the sale of e-cigarettes until more research can be done on their effects.
In a letter to the FDA commissioner, U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi called for the prohibition, saying e-cigarette users were much more likely to test positive for the virus and experience symptoms.
“This is true in vapers as young as 13, which is particularly concerning, given that young people are increasingly driving the spread of COVID-19, threatening the health and safety of Americans of all ages,” he said.
Data from the Canadian government in 2017 showed 15 per cent of Canadians have tried e-cigarettes, better known as vaping. They’re most popular among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Among Canadians who used a vaping product in the past 30 days, the government survey found 65 per cent are current cigarette smokers and 20 per cent are former smokers, while 15 per cent reported having never smoked cigarettes at all.
In a 2018-19 survey, the federal government said 34 per cent of students in grades 7-12 said they’d tried vaping. Despite it being illegal to sell e-cigarettes to kids in Canada, 54 per cent of youth respondents said it would be “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get an e-cigarette with nicotine if they wanted one.
The letter, which asks the FDA to decide by Aug. 18 whether they will agree to the house committee’s demands, was driven in part by a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Researchers collected data from 4,351 Americans from all 50 states between the ages of 13 and 24 through an online survey in May and found that “ever-users,” who consistently used e-cigarettes were five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than “healthy users” who did not.
Participants who smoked both cigarettes and e-cigarettes were between five and seven times more likely to contract the virus.
“We expected a relationship, but not nearly as strong as what we saw. Saying that you’re five to seven times more likely to have COVID-19 if you use e-cigarettes ever or use e-cigarettes and cigarettes in the past 30 days is huge,” said Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, director of research in the division of adolescent medicine at Stanford University and lead author of the study.
Halpern-Felsher said a majority of teens and youth were using e-cigarettes, rather than taking up smoking cigarettes.
“The predominant pattern is either dual-use, but more start with e-cigarettes and then some number move over to cigarettes,” she said.
“E-cigarettes (are) really the driving force of the use of any tobacco products right now.”
According to the study, respondents who reported smoking cigarettes and e-cigarettes within the last 30 days were 4.7 times more likely to experience COVID-19–related symptoms.
Those results were twice as likely among participants who were underweight, obese or identified as minorities and 1.8 times more likely among respondents who identified as LGBTQ2.
Those surveyed who said they were using e-cigarettes and not following physical distancing or stay-at-home orders were 1.6 times more likely to test positive for the virus.
“There are very strong signs that e-cigarettes affect their respiratory system,” said Dr. Robert Schwartz, a professor at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“We do have several studies that demonstrate that young people who use e-cigarettes, have a much higher rate of coughing and wheezing than people who do not.”
Schwartz advised caution against jumping to conclusions based on a single study, but called the results “alarming,” adding “it’s certainly sufficient for me.”
“If you are a vaper or a smoker for that matter, and you are worried about COVID-19, you should do your very best to stop,” he said.
Dr. Geoffrey Fong, a professor at the University of Waterloo, said more evidence would be needed to gain conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes can lead to an increased risk of catching COVID-19.
“It’s difficult to have a pithy, really straightforward kind of response here because the evidence is really evolving and this is the first study,” he said, adding future studies should include the chronicity of youths who claimed they used e-cigarettes.
If vaping really did result in negative health outcomes, Fong said clear evidence would show participants who were regular vapers were more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than casual or occasional users.
“We really want to see a dose-response effect — that those that are vaping daily and vaping a lot are significantly more likely to than those that are vaping maybe once a week or less often.”