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Does vaping make you more susceptible to coronavirus?

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The CDC's latest National Youth Tobacco Survey found that a staggering 1 in 3 American high school students used some type of tobacco product in the previous 30 days, and for the vast majority of them that means e-cigarettes. Millions of teens have gotten hooked on vaping.

Last summer, that trend led to a disturbing uptick in deaths and serious respiratory illnesses among otherwise healthy young people, in many cases believed to be linked to THC or Vitamin E acetate that individuals were unknowingly ingesting through vaping liquids. And now, experts caution that a vaping habit might also make young people in the U.S. more susceptible to the coronavirus.

In a press briefing on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed that, despite the fact that older people are generally most at risk of serious illness from coronavirus, one of the current cases in New York is an otherwise healthy 22-year-old man.

"Why is a 22-year-old man stable but hospitalized at this point? The one factor we know of is he is a vaper," de Blasio said. "So, we don't know of any preexisting conditions, but we do think the fact that he is a vaper is affecting this situation."

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated its guidance that older Americans and people with medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic lung disease are most susceptible to coronavirus. People who are immunosuppressed because they have cancer or they're on a type of medication that weakens their immune system are also more at risk. 

But if what Mayor de Blasio is saying is true — if vaping is a factor in contracting the coronavirus illness, known as COVID-19 — then that could affect a huge group of Americans.

"Well, if there was ever a reason to quit, here's another one," Dr. Tara Narula, a CBS News medical contributor and a board certified cardiologist at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning." "Anything that's going to compromise your lungs is going to increase your risk of being susceptible. We know that smoking decreases your ability to really fight infection." 

Dr. Joanna Cohen, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agrees.

"We know through the deaths and severe respiratory illnesses that we had this summer that there's certainly lung injury happening to vapers," she told CBS News. "And if your lungs are injured, obviously they're going to have a more difficult time dealing with other challenges." 

Both doctors pointed to early data coming out of China as possible evidence.

"There's also some initial data out of China," Cohen said. "They didn't have vaping, but they had smokers and former smokers, looking at who presented with COVID-19, and they did find that the severity of illness seemed to be associated with being a smoker or former smoker. Again, that would suggest the more lung injury you have might affect the disease severity. So we can't say for sure, but it's certainly something to be concerned about."

Narula also noted that the gender demographics of smoking in China could point to a connection.

"In China, we see more men dying from COVID-19 than women," she said. "And one of the theories is that 50% of men in China smoke; less than 2% of women smoke. So this smoking may have a real impact."

Given that individuals with chronic lung disease are especially at risk of contracting COVID-19, it plays to reason that vaping might also make you more susceptible, as it has been shown to cause lung damage.

"We know e-cigarette aerosol contains numerous chemicals that can cause an inflammatory response in the lung tissue," Dr. Michael B. Steinberg, of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, told CBS News. "In general, inflammation can lead to tissue damage, cause airway constriction, and has the potential to increase risk of infection. Since the e-cigarette phenomenon is still recent, we just don't have as well-established information from humans as to the extent of this damage." 

While most experts acknowledge that it's still too early to know for sure, the possibility of a connection between vaping and COVID-19 suggests that young people and others who use e-cigarettes should take the threat seriously.

"It's so early in terms of the studies that are being done, but I think it's certainly a possibility that vaping and inhaling foreign substances into your lungs could make you more susceptible to other lung infections," Cohen said. "And I guess what I would suggest is that young people shouldn't think that they're immune to COVID-19, particularly if they're vaping. You might just want to get checked to make sure that it's nothing serious if you're having any respiratory symptoms."

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