Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Teens and young adults who vape are up to seven times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than peers who don't use e-cigarettes, according to a study published Tuesday by the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Young people who used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes were almost five times as likely to experience symptoms of the new coronavirus, including coughing, fever, fatigue and difficulty breathing, as those who never smoked or vaped, the researchers said.
This might explain why they were also more likely to receive COVID-19 testing, given that in May, when the study was conducted, many regions limited COVID-19 testing to people with symptoms.
"This study is just one of many to show that e-cigarette use leads to harmful outcomes in the lungs," study co-author Bonnie Halpern-Felsher told UPI.
"The findings are a call-out for youth to not start vaping and, if they are vaping, to get help and quit, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Halpern-Felsher, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University.
As many as 4 million American teens use e-cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over the past year, nearly 3,000 teens have been hospitalized with a condition called e-cigarette- and vaping-associated lung injury, or EVALI, and dozens have died from damage to the lungs linked with use of the products.
The symptoms of EVALI -- including cough and shortness of breath -- often mirror those of COVID-19, experts say.
For their research, Halpern-Felsher and her colleagues conducted an online survey of 4,351 young people aged 13 to 24 in May.
Respondents came from all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories, and they were evenly divided between those who had used e-cigarettes and those who had never used nicotine products.
Participants answered questions about whether they had ever used vaping devices or traditional cigarettes, as well as whether they had vaped or smoked in the past 30 days, the researchers said.
The participants also were asked if they had experienced COVID-19 symptoms, were tested for COVID-19 or received a positive diagnosis of COVID-19.
Depending on which nicotine products they used and how recently they had used them, young people who vaped, smoked or both were 2.6 to nine times more likely to receive COVID-19 tests than non-users, the researchers said.
Among young people who were tested for the virus, those who vaped were five to seven times more likely to be infected than those who did not use e-cigarettes, the researchers said.
Young people who had used both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes in the previous 30 days also were nearly seven times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, the researchers said.
No connection was found between COVID-19 diagnosis and smoking conventional cigarettes, perhaps because young people tend to use both vaping devices and traditional cigarettes, researchers said.
In line with other recent COVID-19 research, the study found that lower socioeconomic status and Hispanic or multiracial ethnicity were linked to a higher risk of being diagnosed with the disease, the researchers said.
The researchers said they hope the findings will prompt the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to further tighten regulations governing how vaping products are sold to young people.
"Parents and healthcare providers [should] discuss the dangers of vaping with youth and the FDA [needs] to eliminate sales" of these products, Halpern-Felsher said.