Recent Study Finds Increased Rates of COVID-19 Among Teens Who Vape

A recent study examined the connection between vaping and COVID-19 in young people. This research from the Stanford University School of Medicine surveyed over 4,300 Americans between 13 and 24 years of age. It compared COVID-19 infections between vapers and non-vapers. The results may prove worrisome for e-cigarette users already concerned about the other health risks of vaping.

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Does Vaping Elevate COVID-19 Risk for Teens?

The research team found young adults who vaped were more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 than their non-vaping peers.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. A COVID-19 infection can be serious or life-threatening, even in younger individuals.

"It's not just a small increase in risk, it's a big one," said postdoctoral scholar Shivani Mathur Gaiha, PhD, the study's senior author.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data shows 3.6 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2020. These millions of young adults could be at higher risk for a serious COVID-19 case. Gaiha cautioned teens from misconstruing their youth as immunity against the virus.

"Young people may believe their age protects them from contracting the virus or that they will not experience symptoms of COVID-19, but the data show this isn't true among those who vape," Gaiha said.

Other Compounding COVID-19 Risk Factors For Young Adults

Vaping is not the only additional risk factor for younger individuals. Other factors among younger populations determined by this study include:

  • People of lower socioeconomic status. This population is more likely to receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. This finding is in line with other current research on the topic.
  • People who used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the prior month. This population is nearly five times more likely to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms than those who have never smoked or vaped.
  • People who used both cigarettes and e-cigarette products in the prior month. This population of dual users is also 6.8 times more likely to have a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • People who had used an e-cigarette at any point previously. This population is five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than non-users.

Why Does Vaping Lead to Increased COVID-19 Risk?

Vaping and e-cigarette use can weaken the lung function of otherwise healthy people. SARS-CoV-2 causes respiratory infections. As a result, lungs weakened by vaping products may be more vulnerable to serious cases of COVID-19.

What Does Vaping Do to the Lungs?
Studies have found pathological changes in the lungs of those who use vaping products, including:

  • Acute inflammation
  • An illness similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Damage to the air sacs necessary for oxygen exchange
  • Focal spots of pneumonia

The effects of vaping are still largely unknown. Researchers are still studying a condition called E-cigarette or Vaping Associated Lung Injury (EVALI). EVALI can cause shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and cough.

EVALI symptoms could be exacerbated by COVID-19. The reverse could also be true: COVID-19 may worsen pre-existing lung diseases and conditions.

The long-term effects of both COVID-19 and vaping on young lungs are largely unknown. At-risk populations should do everything possible to protect themselves.

How Can Young People Protect Themselves?

As the school year begins again, young adults should remain vigilant. The COVID-19 pandemic is still prevalent in this country, and close-knit social situations may exacerbate the spread of the virus.

School-aged populations must be careful to observe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. These recommendations include:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Washing your hands
  • Practicing social distancing
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces

If everyone observes these guidelines, at-risk populations will be safer.

Authored by Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.Medical Editor
Photo of Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.
Katy Moncivais holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. She’s an experienced Regenerative Medicine Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Skilled in adult stem cells, medical devices, biomechanics, bacterial and mammalian cell culture, and regenerative medicine, she provides guidance on an array of topics affecting consumers. In her role at, Dr. Moncivais works alongside the writing and research staff to help deliver fact-based news stories to consumers. Her unique professional history alongside her rigorous educational background allows her to contribute to a variety of consumer-focused topics with a fresh perspective. In addition, Dr. Moncivais reviews portions of medically driven content to ensure scientific accuracy.
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