Experts are urging people to avoid vaping near others as coronavirus could be spread through particles lingering in the air.
Current public health advice focuses on the hazards to the person using a device due to the repetitive hand-to-face movements, and recommends washing your hands, cleaning your e-cigarette regularly and avoiding sharing them. But what dangers are there to anyone who might be standing nearby?
The virus spreads via respiratory droplets which are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, speaks or potentially even breathes. Professor Linda Bauld, the Bruce and John Usher Chair of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, told Metro.co.uk it is therefore ‘entirely plausible’ that Covid-19 could be transmitted through vape clouds in the same way.
She said: ‘We don’t know anything about the transfer of the virus through either tobacco smoke or vape clouds. ‘But it is plausible that because people exhale vapour or second-hand smoke that the virus could be travelling in those particles.
That is entirely plausible.’ Professor Caitlin Notley, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, agreed that ‘potentially someone infected with Covid-19 can exhale virus particles through vapour just as they would through their exhaled breath’.
There is currently very little evidence on vaping and Covid-19 and it is unknown whether it makes you more susceptible to infection or more likely to pass the virus on to others. Stopping smoking has been proven to bring immediate health benefits and e-cigarettes can be an effective aid to giving up. Public Health England’s guidance states that ‘for most people vaping remains significantly less harmful than smoking’ and both experts warned that current tobacco smokers should not be discouraged from efforts to quit. But they suggested that vaping should be treated in the same way as smoking and done away from other people.
Prof Bauld said: ‘Vaping is not banned in all indoor spaces like smoking is, which is one of the reasons it is promoted as a smoking cessation aid.’ However, she added: ‘People should not be vaping while waiting in queues for retail outlets or standing at the bus stop or using outdoor hospitality in case people walk through that vape cloud.
‘It is the same with smoking, because there might be an infection risk that we don’t know much about.’ Prof Bauld went on: ‘At a time when Covid-19 is in society we should mostly be doing it in the privacy of our own homes, or standing outside and away from people, because even if there is a small risk that is something we should avoid.
‘Clearly, blowing big clouds of vapour in the middle of a global pandemic in front of other people is not a good idea.’ Prof Notley observed that ‘the vapour makes the breath visible’, adding: ‘It brings it home that if you are standing in a queue close to someone you are inhaling their exhaled breath. ‘Whether that contains vapour or not, it really does emphasise the need for mask wearing. ‘I guess the vaping situation just makes it that much more visible and makes it so much more prominent, but there is no evidence that suggests it is a great risk particularly.’
She called for greater research into whether vaping has any effect on people’s vulnerability to infection and the risk of passing Covid-19 on, adding: ‘If there is a potential risk of transmission through vape clouds we should be aware of this.
‘There is a real need to collect this data if we are going to understand whether vaping on its own and separate from tobacco smoking puts people at higher risk of contracting coronavirus or having poorer outcomes.
‘At the moment we don’t. People in hospital with coronavirus are not even always asked if they smoke tobacco. It’s certainly highly unlikely they will be asked if they use e-cigarettes.
‘We need to try and ensure that data is collected, otherwise we are not going to be able to form solid conclusions.’ PHE’s Tobacco Control Lead, Martin Dockrell, agreed. He said: ‘The evidence is still emerging and uncertain about how smoking interacts with Covid-19. ‘University College London are undertaking regular Rapid Reviews. It will also be important to understand the influence of other nicotine products in relation to the coronavirus.’
Sam Corbishley – Metro UK – October 8, 2020.