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VERIFY: Could vaping put you at greater risk of severe illness during coronavirus?

The Verify team spoke with experts, who explained how vaping increases the risk of pulmonary diseases. Those with chronic lung disease are at high risk for COVID-19.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Could vaping put you at greater risk of severe coronavirus symptoms?

ANSWER:

Yes, our experts agree that those who smoke e-cigarettes are more prone to pulmonary disease. Those with chronic lung disease are considered at higher risk for severe illness. Therefore, those who smoke could be at higher risk for severe symptoms. 

SOURCES:

Dr. Nora Volkow – Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health / "COVID-19: Potential Implications for Individuals with Substance Use Disorders"

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos – Director of the Tabacco Treatment Clinic- Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine

Dr. Amy Milikan-Bell – Army Public Health Center Medical Advisor

PROCESS:

Medical misinformation can run amuck on social media. Our Verify team is committed to separating fact from fiction and getting you truth.

There’s been a lot reported on the link between smoking and COVID-19.

An early study out of Wuhan, China, showed that of those that got pneumonia, smokers tended to get sicker.

That lead a viewer to ask us to Verify whether people who vape could be at a higher risk of COVID-19?

Our researchers spoke with Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins and a spokesperson for the American Lung Association.

“Yes, you are definitely more at risk for having more severe symptoms if you catch COVID-19,” Galiatsatos said. 

Since the virus is still so new, there haven’t been any specific studies done on COVID-19 patients who vape.

But our experts say there’s enough information out there to take precautions.

"We do see that patients who smoke had dire health outcomes from it," Galiatsatos said. "Currently in other countries where maybe electronic cigarette usage is more prevalent, time will tell if they’re going to suffer as dire consequences as those who used the more traditional combustible cigarettes."

Dr. Volkow  backs that up saying vaping makes your lungs vulnerable to pulmonary diseases. According to the CDC, those with chronic lung disease are at higher risk for severe illness.

"We don’t have the luxury of time, we cannot wait until one year from now we have all of the randomized trails that document," Volkow said. "We need to be prudent and even though the evidence is not there, it’s much better to be cautious."

Volkow said that when patients are admitted to the hospital, physicians should ask about the patient's vaping history.

"The research community should thus be alert to associations between COVID-19 case severity/mortality and substance use, smoking or vaping history, and smoking- or vaping-related lung disease," Volkow wrote in a blog on the National Institute on Drug Abuse website.

So we can Verify, yes, health experts agree, if infected, vapers could be at a higher risk of having severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Our Verify researchers also contacted a medical adviser at the Army Public Health Center, who says without current research or statistics, the link between vaping and COVID-19 is still unknown. They noted, however, that vaping is associated with severe EVALI, which can cause respiratory symptoms like coughing, chest pain or shortness of breath.

"We don't know if there is a link between vaping and vulnerability to COVID-19, but if an individual has lung disease, they are at increased risk for more severe illness," Dr. Amy Milikan-Bell said. "I can also confirm that individuals with lung disease are in a high risk category if they were to contract COVID-19. The APHC continues to caution against the use of e-cigarette and vaping devices as there are still known risks, including product-use associated lung injury (EVALI)."

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