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How smoking, vaping and drug use might increase risks from COVID-19

People with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk for serious complications from a coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

People with underlying health conditions, including asthma and COPD (emphysema or chronic bronchitis), are at a higher risk for serious complications from a coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. These serious complications include life-threatening respiratory failure, or the inability of the lungs to function, which may require life support in the form of a ventilator.

Smoking tobacco or marijuana, vaping, or the misuse of drugs are activities that may harm lung health. Because the virus attacks the lungs, even individuals who do not have underlying lung disease but participate in these activities may be at an increased risk for serious complications from COVID-19.

As you may know, smoking tobacco or marijuana increases your risk for developing lung conditions such as COPD. If you have asthma, smoking can trigger an attack or make an attack worse. Most lung cancers are related to smoking tobacco and smokers are 12-13 times more likely to die from COPD than non-smokers. Smoking does immediate harm to the lungs, even before the development of a lung disease. Children and adults exposed to secondhand smoke are also at increased risk of the harmful effects of tobacco. In adults, secondhand smoke exposure can cause coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk of more severe asthma and developing respiratory and ear infections. These lung conditions are major risk factors for severe COVID-19 infection.

Less is known about vaping, or the use of electronic cigarettes. Over the late summer and early fall of 2019, our nation experienced an outbreak of lung injury associated with vaping. While most of these cases were linked to THC-containing vaping products, the evidence is not sufficient to rule out other products as contributing to this outbreak. Therefore, it is possible that using any vaping products could contribute to lung damage, which in turn increases the risk for severe infection from COVID-19.

Misuse of other drugs may also put people at an increased risk for serious complications from COVID-19 infections. In addition to a generalized harmful effect on people’s overall health and immune systems, opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc.), which are used to treat serious pain, depress the respiratory system, and misuse may cause further depression of the respiratory system when one is infected with the virus. Methamphetamine constricts blood vessels in the lungs, hampering their ability to function normally, and infection with the virus may worsen this.

We know that coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause lung damage and interfere with lung function. We should do whatever we can to keep our lungs healthy all the time, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding serious complications or death should we become infected. This means that now, more than ever, we should keep our lungs as healthy as possible by not smoking, whether tobacco, marijuana or e-cigarettes, or by misusing drugs.