Healthy young people who vape or smoke may be putting themselves at greater risk for developing severe COVID, new research finds.
Both smoking tobacco and vaping electronic cigarettes may predispose people to increased inflammation, future development of severe COVID-19 and lingering cardiovascular complications, said lead study author Dr. Theodoros Kelesidis. He's an associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, in Los Angeles.
“The key message is that smoking is the worst, but vaping is not innocent,” Kelesidis said in a UCLA news release. “This has been shown for many lung diseases, but not for COVID. It was a quite interesting and novel finding that vaping changed the levels of key proteins that the virus uses to replicate.”
For the study, the researchers examined blood plasma collected before the pandemic from 45 nonsmokers, 30 vapers and 29 cigarette smokers. The investigators tested the plasma to measure levels of since-identified proteins that the COVID virus needs in order to replicate.
These proteins are known as ACE2, furin, Ang II, Ang 1--7, IL-6R, sCD163 and L-selectin. A protein called ADAM17 collectively regulates those last three proteins.
The researchers found that plasma from healthy young people who smoke tobacco or vape had increased levels of furin, sCD163, and L-selectin, compared to nonsmokers. The findings suggest there may be increased activity of the proteins furin and ADAM17 in the immune cells and on surface cells, such as those lining the lungs, in healthy young smokers and vapers.
“E-cigarette vapers may be at higher risk than nonsmokers of developing infections and inflammatory disorders of the lungs,” Kelesidis said. “Electronic cigarettes are not harmless and should be used for only the shortest time possible in smoking cessation, and not at all by nonsmokers.”
The study was small, which was a limitation. Another limitation was the reliance on testing blood plasma rather than tissue samples, such as lung cells. There is also a lack of evidence of the role that the ADAM17 proteins may play in severe COVID illness among nonsmokers.
The findings were published Feb. 9 in the Journal of Molecular MedicineJournal of Molecular Medicine.
The American Lung Association has more on the health impacts of vaping.
SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, Feb. 9, 2023