COVID-19 ISO Insights

COVID-19 Risks May Increase with Vaping: How Will Schools Respond?

August 31, 2020

By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU

Middle schools, high schools and colleges that are reopening during the pandemic crisis may need to include addressing student vaping in their plans because a new study shows an association between vaping and an increase in COVID-19 diagnosis.

The Online Survey of Youths

According to a Wired article, the The Journal of Adolescent Health has published the results of an online survey of over 4,000 youths between the ages or 13 and 24: researchers reportedly found that COVID-19 diagnosis increased by five times for youths that used e-cigarettes. The frequency of diagnosis reportedly increased to 7 times if the user had vaped and smoked traditional cigarettes. (See our post on smoking and COVID-19).

The nationally representative study, available here, explained some of its methodology as follows:

The model used weights for age group; gender; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning; race/ethnicity; and e-cigarette ever-use per U.S. population-based data; accounted for clustering by region and state; and controlled for demographics, mother's education (as an indicator of socioeconomic status), body mass index (obesity as an underlying condition), complying with county shelter-in-place orders and state percentage of COVID-19–positive cases.

Wired noted that this study shows a correlation, and not necessarily causation, explaining that "[…] on its own, this [study] can’t prove whether [vapers] may be more biologically susceptible to infection in the first place, or if they are more likely to have severe infections."

Why Might Vaping Increase the Risk of COVID-19 Infection?

Per Wired, one expert suggested several theories for a potential increase in COVID-19 diagnoses among e-cigarette users. Such users may reportedly:

  • have pre-existing lung damage possibly from vaping which may increase susceptibility to a virus.
  • touch their mouths more frequently than non-vapers.
  • share their "vapes, increasing their likelihood of being exposed in the first place."
  • be exposed to the virus via the clouds of exhaled vape aerosol.

Regarding severity, a separate study published in July, also in the The Journal of Adolescent Health suggested that vapers may be more at risk for an increased severity of the illness, noting that "[n]early one in three young adults is medically vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness [and ...smoking and e-cigarette use] is a key factor that confers medical vulnerability among young adults."

Experts Worry About Reopening Schools and Vaping

A related article from NBC News highlighted that experts are pointing to these studies to focus more attention towards combatting youth vaping as part of school reopening plans amid the pandemic.

NBC News explains that "[o]ver one in four high school students reported current e-cigarette use in last year’s National Youth Tobacco Survey. If schools reopen and teen vaping goes unchecked, transmission rates could increase, affecting teachers, parents and the community at large."

Previous Success: Some Schools Have Reduced Student Vaping

Of interest, back in January 2020, EurekAlert reported on a study that reviewed the effectiveness of a middle school vaping prevention program. Per the article, the program, called "CATCH My Breath," was developed by researchers at the The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and is being used in over 2,000 schools in 50 states. The study reportedly indicated that the prevention program was able to reduce the likelihood of a student experimenting with vaping by half, compared with schools that did not have the program.