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Doctors urging smokers, vapers to drop habits with ongoing pandemic

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Correction 9:17 A.M. 11/18/2020: The University of California San Francisco conducted a meta-analysis of studies. They did not analyze COVID-19 patients directly.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - While cigarette smoking decreases in the United States, the number of people using vaping devices is projected to hit 55 million next year.

The Great American Smokeout is taking place on Thursday, and health care providers hope to target both habits, as they can compromise the lungs, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

J. Taylor Hays, M.D. said tracking these relationships has been difficult because we're still early on in the pandemic. The data that's been produced has only been observational which opens the door for bias and misrepresentation compared to experimental data.

Studies have proven that smoking and vaping can lead to inflammation in the lungs and a weakened immune system. With ongoing community spread, health care providers are starting to take note of COVID-19 potentially capitalizing on these effects when you combine smoking or vaping with the virus.

"I'm really concerned about my patients getting COVID because we know that patients with COPD which many smokers have are more likely to have severe complications with COVID and possibly death," said Jenny Prinsen, N.P., pulmonologist for Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

A study from the University of California San Francisco showed that of the over 11,000 COVID-19 patients they analyzed via peer-reviewed papers, smoking was associated with almost doubling the risk of disease progression and had more acute or critical conditions that led to the ICU or death.

Both smoke and vape users also engage in actions that increase the chance to spread or contract the virus.

Smokers and e-cigarette users bring the device to their mouth and use their hands. They're also more likely to cough which creates an opportunity to spread COVID-19, sometimes without even knowing that they have it because smokers often cough.

"Smokers and people who vape tend to do it socially, so they're not using good social distance, and of course, they're not wearing a mask if they're smoking, so those are all things that make smokers as well people who use e-cigarettes, likely to get COVID," said Prinsen, N.P.

The biggest question doctors have right now is if vaping is a risk factor that fuels severe consequences of COVID-19. Mayo Clinic Health System is just starting to look at vaping and COVID-19 test data and the outcomes for those patients.

A Stanford University online survey of 18 to 24 year-olds found that the COVID-19 risk factor was five times greater for youth who vaped than in those that did not use vapes or cigarettes.

Past studies show that cigarette smoking makes people more susceptible to other diseases and viruses like pneumonia, severe influenza, and MERS which is a species of the coronavirus.

Smoking and vaping are controllable risk factors that Dr. Prinsen believes people can eliminate to reduce their chances of suffering the potential ramifications from COVID-19.

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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