Vaping raises concern among medical community, students amid COVID-19 pandemic



People with underlying medical issues or aged 65 and over are statistically more at risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19. But people as young as 20 are also in danger — and this could be made worse by using nicotine inhalants. 

Health professionals have raised concerns over the effects of smoking and vaping in relation to the contraction and symptoms of COVID-19. The virus is respiratory and attacks the lungs, which has stirred debate whether nicotine inhalation could exacerbate symptoms and lead to harmful consequences for young people.

“I have been hearing horror stories, worst-case scenarios,” said John, a DePaul junior who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “Like being hooked up to a ventilator and needing a breathing machine for the rest of your life if you’re seriously affected.”

John has consistently used various forms of nicotine inhalants like Juul and other brands since his freshman year at DePaul.

“[COVID-19] has been in the back of my mind more so than some of the long-term effects of vaping,” John said.

The use of vaping products like Juul have dramatically increased among middle school, high school and college-aged individuals over the last few years.

The amount of people vaping — using nicotine or marijuana vaporizers — has at least doubled in every age group studied, according to the most recent Monitoring the Future studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Between 2017 and 2018, the percentage of young adults vaping nicotine products climbed from 6.5 to 10.6 percent.

Smokers are among those considered immunocompromised. A study conducted within the Department of Preventive Medicine at USC found that “respiratory toxins found in flavorings may pose a threat to the respiratory health of users.” This could lead to a breakdown of  immune defenses, leading to both a greater chance of contracting the virus and feeling more intense symptoms as a result of the infection.

Despite these alarming findings, some DePaul students say the numbers don’t concern them.  

“I don’t feel like I need to think about it; it’s not something I worry about,” said DePaul junior Tanner Diers. “I really don’t care at this time. I’m not looking at repercussions.” 

Diers began vaping last year, after someone left a vape behind after a party at his apartment.

 Because vaping is a newer trend among smokers, there is little-to-no information on the long-term effects of vaping. However, as it relates to severe symptoms of COVID-19, those who smoke cigarettes and/or vape are at a greater risk to experience those symptoms.

The dangers of vaping are not a new discussion. Last summer, an outbreak of life-threatening lung illnesses tied to vaping became a major scare. A majority of those afflicted had inhaled vapes with marijuana oil. However, at least 15 percent of those afflicted had reported using only nicotine vapes, according to The New York Times. 

Illinois State student Keaton Goodman cites last summer’s vape scare as reason for concern.

 “I moved to cigarettes […] because of the vape scare, which is a strange transition,” Goodman said. “But I moved back to vapes once quarantine started.”

Along with persistent vaping, Goodman also suffers from an underlying asthmatic condition, sometimes causing lung constriction. 

“I do fear that if I were to get coronavirus, I wouldn’t handle it very well,” Goodman said.

There has also been concern among public health officials that the act of using nicotine products can lead to further spread of the virus. The release of vapor into the air could potentially spread virus particles — not to mention the sharing aspect of vaping products, like people passing them back and forth.

“[Infection] has become a bigger concern, so I am trying to be safe, keep distance during quarantine,” John said. “The spread of the virus is something that is preventable.”

The correlation between vaping and intensified lung problems are once again in the forefront of public discourse. The debate is likely just beginning, as we see the number of cases and death rise every day.  

“I have nothing but free time — I am always around it, so I definitely have to set boundaries for myself,” John said.