Internet searches for vaping and COVID-19 peaked in March, but then dropped off. Before the virus emerged, vaping and its effects on young lungs was the epidemic public health officials were most alarmed about.
A new UC San Francisco study found that one out of three young people are medically vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness.
Researchers looked at the smoking behaviors of 8,400 individuals between ages of 18 and 25 and found tobacco use to be a top risk factor.
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Tiara Alvarez used to vape e-cigarettes.
"I started noticing that once I would inhale, it was hurting my chest. It was like a burn," she said.
Dr. Vikram Anand, a infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, says smoking and vaping can have adverse effects on respiratory and immune function.
"We do know that vaping can cause lung injury and it's likely that if you have vaping-related lung injury, you will have more severe outcomes," he said.
Anand said the connection between vaping and COVID-19 needs more study, but government numbers point to an upward trend. In mid-April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly nine hospitalizations per 100,000 were in young adults. By the end of June, nearly 35 hospitalizations per 100,000 were in those between the ages of 18 to 29.
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"The more people who are getting infected, the more young people we'll see having illness as well," he said.
Research shows the number of kids who started vaping at age 14 or younger has tripled in the past five years. Young people often think vaping is less harmful than cigarettes, but experts remind us it can be addictive and no one's sure yet about the long term impacts on lungs.
"It's very clear that there's no benefit to vaping and there's only the potential to harm," Anand said.
The UCSF study found young men who smoke or vape may double their risk of serious COVID-19 complications, including death. The risk for young women goes up one and a half times compared to their peers who don't vape or smoke.
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