Despite denials from e-cigarette manufacturers, teens are attracted to vaping because of the ease of use, kid-friendly flavors and advertising tactics that make vaping look cool. They also may believe that vaping is safer than smoking traditional cigarettes – something they’ve been warned against for years. Vaping isn’t trouble-free though, even if e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco. And it comes with its own set of health threats for teens, including a higher risk for COVID-19.

More teens are vaping every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 3.6 million in 2018 to 5.4 million in 2019. With the arrival of COVID-19, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine wanted to know if vaping put these teens at risk for the infection or if it made the symptoms worse.

More Than 4,000 Teens Completed the Survey

Using surveys completed by over 4,000 teens across the country, the researchers found that teens who vaped were 5 times more likely to contract COVID-19 compared with teens who did not vape. And if they used both e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes, the risk rose to 7%. The researchers did not find a similar increase among teens who used only tobacco cigarettes, likely because fewer teens are using regular cigarettes alone. If they do smoke cigarettes, they are likely to also vape, said the study’s senior author, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at the university.

Other factors played into the risks for teens in the study group who became infected. The chances were higher among teens who were:

  • Male
  • Nonbinary gender
  • Hispanic
  • Multiracial
  • Underweight
  • In a lower socioeconomic status

Teens who lived in states with higher COVID-19 rates were also at higher risk.

Vaping Causes More Symptoms

Of course, not everyone who is infected shows symptoms – and this is why many young people believe it’s not a big deal if they do contract the virus. But even here, vaping makes a difference. According to the study’s findings, infected teens who vaped and used cigarettes were 5 times more likely to have COVID-19 symptoms, including coughing, shortness of breath, fever and fatigue, than teens who didn’t smoke or vape.

Why the higher rate of infection? The most obvious cause is damage to the lung tissue and lung function among vapers and smokers. But there is also the hand-to-mouth movements during smoking and sharing the devices or cigarettes with others.

The Take-Away

While the researchers hope that their findings will encourage the Food and Drug Administration to take action and regulate e-cigarettes and the vaping products, they encourage parents, schools, and community-based organizations to continue to educate the teens about the dangers of vaping as well as smoking. “Now is the time,” Dr. Halpern-Felsher said in a press release. “We need the FDA to hurry up and regulate these products. And we need to tell everyone: If you are a vaper, you are putting yourself at risk for COVID-19 and other lung disease.”