Twenty-year-old Janan Moein vaped his first pen a year ago. By late fall, he was blowing through several THC-laced cartridges a week — more, he said, than most people can handle.
Then in early December, he found himself in the emergency room of Sharp Grossmont Hospital in San Diego with a collapsed lung and a diagnosis of vaping-related lung illness. His hospital stay plunged him into a medically induced coma, forced him onto a breathing machine and stripped nearly 50 pounds off his 6-foot-1-inch frame in just two weeks.
At one point, Mr. Moein said, his doctors gave him a 5 percent chance of survival. He resolved that the wax pen he had vaped before his hospitalization would be his last.
When he contracted a mild case of Covid-19 during a family barbecue three months ago, he knew he had quit not a moment too soon. “If I had caught Covid-19 within the week before I got really ill, I probably would have died,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, experts have warned that the coronavirus — a respiratory pathogen — most likely capitalizes on the scarred lungs of smokers and vapers. Doctors and researchers are now starting to pinpoint the ways in which smoking and vaping seem to enhance the virus’s ability to spread from person to person, infiltrate the lungs and spark some of Covid-19’s worst symptoms.
“I have no doubt in saying that smoking and vaping could put people at increased risk of poor outcomes from Covid-19,” said Dr. Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, a pediatric pulmonologist at Columbia University. “It is quite clear that smoking and vaping are bad for the lungs, and the predominant symptoms of Covid are respiratory. Those two things are going to be bad in combination.”
Last year’s vaping crisis, during which thousands of people like Mr. Moein were sickened and hospitalized with severe lung and respiratory illnesses, underscored the hazards of many e-cigarette and vaping products, especially illicitly sold marijuana-based vapes.
Much of what underlies the relationship between smoking, vaping and the coronavirus remains unclear. Doctors aren’t sure why vaping makes some people seriously sick, but seems to spare others. And Mr. Moein’s unexpectedly mild encounter with the coronavirus remains mysterious as well.
These and other lingering questions have made the risks of smoking and vaping during the pandemic tough to communicate.
James Ippolito, a 26-year-old Army veteran who lives in Hingham, Mass., has been hooked on vaping nicotine for about six years. “I vape every day, all day long,” Mr. Ippolito said.
The looming threat of the virus doesn’t intimidate him. “I hate to say it, but if I got the virus, I would still be vaping — I wouldn’t even think it was related,” he said.
Such stubbornness troubles experts, who pointed out that Covid is hardly the first disease to hit smokers and vapers harder.
“Lungs aren’t designed to regularly breathe in smoke and vape,” said Dr. Drew Harris, a pulmonologist at UVA Health in Virginia. These products, he added, “do just about everything bad you can think of.”
About 34 million adults smoke cigarettes in the United States, many of them from communities of…
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