The Covid 19 pandemic has brought a renewed focus on public health issues like smoking, vaping and substance abuse. In recent years the ratio of teenagers engaging in vaping and smoking has increased exponentially, an estimated 80 % rise from 2018 to 2019. There have been several public health campaigns on the dangers of smoking that have to an extent reduced the numbers of teenage smokers. In the last decade, there has been a rise in the number of teenagers indulging in vaping, which is seen as an alternative to smoking, even though it has been effectively banned in several countries.
While experts are trying to figure the reasons for the rise in vaping amongst young adults, it is crucial that it is addressed in this juncture as the Covid 19 pandemic might pose a bigger risk to individuals who smoke or vape. Covid 19 or SARS – COV -2, as the name suggests causes severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The Covid 19 viral strain directly impacts the lungs, reducing its capacity and limiting the intake of oxygen and leading to ARDS and pneumonia. It is especially deadly in individuals who have underlying illnesses, and respiratory complications or both. Research has proven that smoking and vaping has a detrimental effect on the respiratory function of the body, especially lungs.
Even healthy individuals with no illnesses like diabetes and hypertension will be at risk of succumbing to Covid 19 if they are smokers or engage in vaping. While vaping, the liquids used as stimulants in the vaping devices contain aldehydes and other chemical compounds which have shown to destroy or adversely affect the cells in the respiratory tract.
As the respiratory tract, including lungs, are exposed directly to the environment unlike other organs; the risk of being affected is higher. Smoking and vaping impairs the defence system of the lungs, they reduce the immune function of the respiratory system, thereby exposing the lungs to the vagaries of the environment. Under these circumstances, the lungs are easily susceptible to the virus as there is a lack of defence to prevent its entry. The FDA has recently ascertained that vaping will increase the risks associated with Covid 19. And health experts have suggested that the youngsters who vape are being hospitalized with severe Covid 19 infections, owing to their already impaired lung function.
Initially vaping was seen as a safer alternative to smoking, which changed as teenagers who vape were being diagnosed with a mysterious lung infection. It was later speculated that the TCH compound in the vaping liquid was causing fatal lung disease. And the US FDA immediately set down to regulate the sales and marketing of vaping devices.
Apart from a threat of infection from Covid 19, smoking and vaping can lead to several other lung infections. While dependence on nicotine pushes many to continue with the habit like smoking which eventually leads to addiction. Another aspect is that it can risk the lives of non-smokers too, due to passive smoking or second-hand smoking. Crucial evidence has been found between passive smokers and spike in lung cancers.
Some other risks involved with vaping include a negative impact on the brain, making memory loss and low information retention a common factor among individuals who vape . Inhalation of carcinogenic compounds, nicotine, volatile compounds which are present in the vaping liquid, directly affect the lungs and reduce immunity.
And a common illness associated with inhalation of smoke, that is chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders weakens the lungs muscles and reduces the intake of oxygen, this is irreversible damage and tends to aggravate with age. Also, smoking has shown to result in asthma and other breathing problems in individuals who otherwise would not have suffered from these ailments, or have any family history with respiratory ailments. Even people with opioid addiction are at a higher risk of Covid 19 infection, as the primary mode of intake is through inhalation.
In the present scenario, with a looming pandemic that is threatening to wipe out wide swathes of the global population, it is important to heighten the campaign against smoking and vaping. Because the threat stretches beyond immediate individuals and will affect the community too.
If your teenager engages in vaping or smoking, the first thing you should do is talk to your child about it, keeping the channels of communication open is paramount for effective intervention. In case, you feel that your teen is addicted to smoking or vaping and withdrawal will be difficult, then you can enrol him/her in programs that help teenagers effectively quit the habit while being cognizant of the withdrawal symptoms they might encounter in the process. These programs also provide therapy to ensure the teens have adequate techniques to prevent a relapse . Remember; the first step is to engage with your children and be seen as a support.
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Individuals with respiratory issues like asthma and wheezing, and who smoke and vape stand a higher chance at contracting and succumbing to a severe Covid 19 infection. So this is the right time to intervene and help your child kick the butt.
Several research agencies across the world are still trying to figure the various environmental, physiological and biological causes that might aggravate the spread of Covid 19. The connection between vaping, smoking and Covid 19 was observed during the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China. And it was observed that out of all deaths due to Covid 19 in China, 6.3 % of the casualties had an underlying respiratory illness as opposed to 2.3% who did not have any respiratory illness.
All these issues, coupled with other underlying illnesses including people on immunosuppressant medications and with overwhelmed and crumbling healthcare will prove to be an uphill battle. Hence, it is essential to do all we can to strengthen our immunity to improve our chances of survival in case we contract the virus including kicking the habit. We need to strengthen our resolve of battling this pandemic and adopting a healthier lifestyle could be the edge we need to win the fight against COVID 19.