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Study finds college e-cigarette users more susceptible to COVID-19

Third-year UF philosophy major Bryan Berlioz used to smoke disposable vape products as often as three times a week.

However, he recently stopped due to concerns about COVID-19, he said. Young adults who still perceive themselves to be less susceptible to COVID-19 may be no longer immune.

“Let’s all be realistic. We all know it damages your lungs; it doesn’t do you any good,” Berlioz said. “So, I wanted to limit my chance of my body failing.”

The Journal of Adolescent Health conducted a study with college-aged individuals and analyzed their susceptibility to COVID-19. Smokers, including e-cigarette users, are twice as likely to be vulnerable to complications from the virus, according to the findings.

“Not a lot of college students have heart disease, for example, or have had a heart attack. So, smoking either cigarettes or e-cigarettes is going to be the biggest issue for them in terms of making them susceptible to pneumonia, viral infections, things like that,” said UF assistant professor of medicine Dr. Eric Papierniak.

Papierniak works within the department of pulmonary and critical care at UF. Papierniak said he worked with COVID-19 patients who have used cigarettes and e-cigarettes and noted that smoking could lead to long-term consequences.

“In general, people who smoke have more heart disease and more lung disease. So, they tend to do worse. Those things can start relatively early on, especially if you start smoking at an early age,” Papierniak said.

The Journal of Adolescent Health analyzed eight parameters identified by the CDC and one smoking behavior, e-cigarette use. E-cigarettes have a history of causing respiratory and immune illness, according to the study. By inhaling vape emissions, it can lead to lung tissue inflammation, weakening one’s ability to fight off infection, according to the American Lung Association.

Dr. Judy Lew, a former UF clinical associate professor in the department of pediatrics with a subspecialty in pediatric infectious disease, said that the correlation between COVID-19 and vaping was unsurprising because both are tied to lung damage.

“Not surprising since using cigarettes and e-cigarettes are known to potentially damage the lungs and so can covid,” Lew wrote in an email to the Alligator.

In a similar study conducted by the European Respiratory Journal, nicotine in vaping products increases the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) in cells. The ACE-2 receptor acts as a “binding site” for the coronavirus to enter and infect human cells. This puts e-cigarette users at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Papierniak said that the nature of a college campus eases the spread of the virus amongst students.

“People in college are at greater risk of getting Coronavirus in the first place because they’re in much closer quarters, around each other more and it’s harder to social distance in classrooms and cafeterias,” said Papierniak.

Smoking loves company. Berlioz said that e-cigarettes use is common in social settings, explaining why smokers are more vulnerable.

“It makes the most sense if you think about it. When people are smoking those nicotine devices or cigarettes, they’re also doing it in social groups. They’re sharing it with each other. So, that’s a way of increasing infection rates,” Bryan Berlioz said.

In order to mitigate the contraction of the virus, Lew recommends social distancing, hand washing, quarantining if not feeling well and wearing a mask. Papierniak said that the best way to prevent contraction for e-cigarette and cigarette smokers is to stop using the product altogether.

“As a pulmonologist, it’s my mission in life to get people to not smoke. I think that even if we weren’t in a pandemic, I would strongly encourage people not to smoke,” Papierniak said. “In the situation we are in now, I think that anything that you could do or not do in order to make yourself less risky to get really, really sick from serious disease is something you should very strongly consider doing.”

Kalia Richardson/The Alligator