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How Decreasing Vaping in Schools May Reduce the Risk of COVID-19

Key points:

  • A Stanford University study found that teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes are five to seven times more likely to test positive for COVID-19.

  • People who smoke or vape may be at an increased risk for severe complications from COVID-19.

  • The act of vaping increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

  • Keeping school environments vape- and smoke-free is critical, especially given the contagious nature of COVID-19.


As you look for ways to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 (coronavirus), decreasing vaping use among students should be a priority in your prevention strategy.

A Stanford University study found a strong connection between COVID-19 and vaping. Their research showed that teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes are five to seven times more likely to test positive for the virus.

And, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heeded a similar warning among people who smoke or vape. They also said vapers could suffer more severe medical issues if they contract COVID-19.

"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,” said Stanford University study lead author Shivani Mathur Gaiha, PhD, in a Stanford Medicine News Center article. "This study tells us pretty clearly that youth who are using vapes or are dual-using [e-cigarettes and cigarettes] are at elevated risk, and it’s not just a small increase in risk; it’s a big one."

How does COVID-19 and vaping affect lung health?

Both COVID-19 and vaping hurt the lungs and make it harder to breathe.

  • COVID-19 is an extremely contagious infection that attacks the lungs, killing lung cells and tissue. Symptoms range from mild to severe and include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, extreme tiredness, and more.

  • Vaping inflames and damages the lungs. It can cause chronic cough, mucus, bronchitis, and wheezing, as well as asthma symptoms.

Why might vaping increase the risk of COVID-19?

Vaping and other drug use negatively affect your lung and heart health. This makes you more susceptible to infection and likely to be sicker if you get COVID-19. Even though there is limited data on vaping and COVID-19, studies show that students who smoke may be two times more likely to have severe symptoms from the virus than those who don't smoke.

In the Stanford University study, 4,351 participants ages 13 to 24 responded to a survey asking if they ever used vaping devices or combustible cigarettes, and how much they vaped or smoked in the past 30 days. They also reported if they had COVID-19 symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test or diagnosis. The results were astounding. Those who smoked or vaped in the past 30 days were almost five times as likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms, like fever and shortness of breath. Also, young people who vaped, smoked, or both were roughly three to nine times more likely to get a COVID-19 test than nonusers.

“Teens and young adults need to know that if you use e-cigarettes, you are likely at immediate risk of COVID-19 because you are damaging your lungs,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, senior author of the Stanford University study and professor of pediatrics, in a Stanford Medicine News Center article.

Also, the very act of vaping itself poses a threat. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets released into the air when you talk, cough, or sneeze. When a student vapes, they not only breathe out toxic chemicals but also their lung secretions that may contain the virus. On top of that, vaping devices collect bacteria that can spread from one student to another when shared.

Can students who don't vape also be at an increased risk of COVID-19?

Students who don't vape are still at risk because of the exposure to harmful secondhand chemicals and ultrafine particles in vape.

Also, if a student has an underlying health condition (like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease) or chronic lung condition (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma), they have a higher chance of getting sicker with COVID-19. People with chronic lung conditions are more likely to die from COVID-19 – 6.3% compared to 2.3% overall, according to one study by the China CDC.

How can I make my school safe?

Keeping your school environment free of vape is critical for the health and safety of all students and staff – and it's especially true now considering the contagious nature and potentially severe complications of COVID-19.

Because of the stress and isolation caused by this outbreak, it's essential to have patience and empathy with students who are vaping. Have a guidance counselor or a trusted staff member connect them with resources to help them quit.

Also, it's crucial to educate students about the dangers of vaping and how it may increase their risk of COVID-19 complications – not only for themselves but also for their peers exposed to secondhand vape.

Written by Kristin Erekson Barton, MA, CHES

Reviewed by Cindy Bistany, DHSc

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