With schools closed, college dorms shuttered and social distancing in full swing, many families are spending more time together than they might have planned to. Experts suggest that it's an opportune time for parents to talk to kids about vaping and help them break the harmful habit.
"I think there's no question that this is a perfect opportunity for people who are vaping or using tobacco or nicotine products to try to quit, if they're so inclined," said Dr. Dean Drosnes, the medical director of the Caron Treatment Centers in Pennsylvania and an addiction medication physician. "I can't say enough about this being a perfect time to quit vaping and smoking and put yourself at minimum risk, now and in the future."
Is there a link between coronavirus and vaping?
During a recent appearance on TODAY, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams commented that vaping could be a factor behind a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in people between the ages of 18 and 49.
"There are theories that (the increase in cases in younger populations) could be because we know we have a higher proportion of people in the United States, and also in Italy, who vape," said Adams on March 23, when he urged people to stay at home. "We don't know if that's the only cause, but it's important for young people to know you can get this disease, you can be hospitalized for this disease, you can die from this disease."
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Drosnes said that while he is not aware of "any specific data suggesting that vaping puts people at higher risk of contracting coronavirus," it's possible that a history of chronic vaping could make someone more susceptible to the new coronavirus.
"Chronic vaping seems to decrease immune function in the lungs, and that, in a general way, inhibits the body's normal response to invasion by an infectious agent," said Drosnes. "It makes sense that people who vape would be less able to combat the COVID-19 virus ... If you do contract it, you're at risk of getting a much more severe disease."
Drosnes suggested that the emphasis on personal health inspired by the coronavirus pandemic might also encourage people to think about quitting vaping.
"Any time there's a health scare, people decide 'I really want to get healthy, I want to put myself in a position to not be at risk of endangering my health,'" Drosnes explained. "A lot of people now are saying 'What can I do to keep myself in best shape in case I contract this virus?' and certainly smoking or vaping cessation is among the things they can do."
How can parents talk to their kids about quitting vaping?
Drosnes emphasized that this time of social distancing provides a perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their children about vaping.
"I think there are a lot of people who would like to quit, and this is a great opportunity to do so," said Drosnes, who said he has seen an increase in vaping in the past five years, particularly among younger populations. "There's a lot of kids that vape ... There's a lot of vaping, and we heard a lot about vaping prior to coronavirus, and it's still there."
He said that one way parents can bring up vaping is to pin it to coronavirus and "connect the dots" between vaping, lung health, and the virus.
"People who pay attention to the media and are learning about COVID-19 recognize that this is a respiratory virus that attacks the respiratory system," he said. "People who get this have a cough and breathing problems; people develop pneumonia, and the majority of fatalities have been as a result of that uncontrolled pneumonia ... I think parents have an ability to couch those facts in a way that is loving and protective of their kids."
Drosnes added that if families have multiple smokers or vapers in the home, quitting could become a "family undertaking."
"Maybe everybody decides to take on this nicotine problem together," he suggested. "That can help with bonding and mutual support during this time."
What are some other ways to try to stop vaping while social distancing?
While social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, Drosnes suggested that those who vape could use the time to research the real risks of vaping.
"There was a perception, propagated by the tobacco companies, that vaping was not harmful, that it was just a water vapor that contains chemicals, rather than tobacco smoke with additives," Drosnes explained. "And that information is just incorrect. What is inhaled from e-cigarettes is not healthy."
Parents and kids can do research together, Drosnes said, and keep the conversation in a "neutral zone" that allows for judgement-free discussion.
Drosnes suggested that kids and families try to use online, web-based information programs to try to quit the addiction. His treatment center is currently offering a web-based platform which allows people to try to stop vaping at any time.
"This is an enduring web-based platform for vaping cessation, which is a great thing," he said. "I think that the message I want to convey is really simple: Nothing about vaping or smoking is good. There's not a thing about it that is healthy at all, and any time somebody takes the initiative to stop, it's a good thing, and this is a perfect opportunity to concentrate on that."