Smoking, Vaping, and Drug Abuse May Worsen COVID-19 Health Impact: NIDA

March 20, 2020 Updated: March 21, 2020

People who smoke, vape, or have a history of substance use disorders may be at higher risk of COVID-19 infection and complications, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“As people across the U.S. and the rest of the world contend with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the research community should be alert to the possibility that it could hit some populations with substance use disorders (SUDs) particularly hard,” wrote Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA director.

Volkow wrote that since the virus attacks the lungs, people who smoke or vape tobacco or marijuana are at higher risk from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the CCP virus.

The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.

“Thus far, deaths and serious illness from COVID-19 seem concentrated among those who are older and who have underlying health issues, such as diabetes, cancer, and respiratory conditions. It is therefore reasonable to be concerned that compromised lung function or lung disease related to smoking history, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), could put people at risk for serious complications of COVID-19,” Volkow wrote.

CCP virus coronavirus
Transmission electron micrograph of particles of the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient in the United States. (NIAID)

Opioid and Methamphetamine Use Also a Factor

People who don’t smoke but have a history of opioid and methamphetamine abuse may also be more vulnerable, according to Volkow, because those drugs also harm the lungs and air passageways.

Another factor compounding the risk for these groups of people is the fact that they are more likely to experience homelessness or imprisonment, circumstances that amplify virus transmission risk, she noted.

“When someone’s lungs are exposed to flu or other infections the adverse effects of smoking or vaping are much more serious than among people who do not smoke or vape,” Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in a blog post.

“Vaping affects your lungs at every level. It affects the immune function in your nasal cavity by affecting cilia which push foreign things out … The ability of your upper airways to clear viruses is compromised,” Glantz told CNN in a phone interview.

Volkow said very little is known definitively about COVID-19 and its intersection with substance use disorders. Still, she said past experience suggests compromised respiratory function is likely to exacerbate the impact of the disease.

“We can make educated guesses based on past experience that people with compromised health due to smoking or vaping and people with opioid, methamphetamine, cannabis, and other substance use disorders could find themselves at increased risk of COVID-19 and its more serious complications,” she concluded.

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