The team at USC Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) has made it their mission to investigate the use, and understand the health effects, of e-cigarettes for the last 7 years. As COVID-19 hits with a vengeance at a time when vaping is as popular as ever, the team naturally wondered if others are as concerned about health implications for vapers as they are. Anuja Majmundar, doctoral candidate, along with mentors Jon-Patrick Allem, Tess Boley Cruz and Jennifer B. Unger, took to Twitter to find out.
They discovered that Twitter users discussed whether vaping increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 , and if the virus could survive in vapor clouds and be transmitted to those nearby. Some even wondered if some early COVID-19 cases among the vaping community were misdiagnosed as a vaping illness formally referred to as EVALI – E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury.
Majmundar believes the health community should be listening. “The public health community has an opportunity to share emerging scientific findings to address these concerns in a timely fashion. ”
Major reasons for health communicators to address vaping in conjunction with COVID-19 include the potential consequences of unsubstantiated claims circulating on social media platforms. “ One of the emerging unsubstantiated claims was that vaping can protect or treat individuals during the pandemic” suggests Majmundar, referring to claims that vaping devices could be used to administer medication or holistic substances, or protect the lungs by introducing humidity. “Such claims can mislead individuals and snowball into a bigger public health problem.”
There is ongoing research examining ways in which vaping and inhaling vapor into the lungs may impact COVID-19 outcomes. Organizations such as National Institutes of Health, and other experts in tobacco control, believe it calls for further study. For their part, the team at TCORS plans to continue analysis of conversations on this topic. “Our in-depth investigation will help prioritize specific health-related aspects of COVID-19 and vaping to be addressed in future public health campaigns.”
While more studies are in the pipeline, keeping an ear to the ground in online communities, and analyzing health records of COVID-19 patients can help the health community plan interventions, health education messaging and patient-provider practices.
— by Carolyn Barnes