The US Food and Drug Administration modified its stance on coronavirus and vaping, saying it has an unknown effect on the risk of COVID-19, while warning that smoking can create worse outcomes.
“E-cigarette use can expose the lungs to toxic chemicals, but whether those exposures increase the risk of Covid-19 is not known,” the agency said Wednesday in an e-mailed response to a question from Bloomberg News.
The agency had said late last month that vapers and smokers with underlying health conditions might be at higher risk from complications.
Its description of cigarettes’ risks also differed from its earlier statements.
“Cigarette smoking causes heart and lung diseases, suppresses the immune system, and increases the risk of respiratory infections,” FDA spokeswoman Alison Hunt said. “People who smoke cigarettes may be at increased risk from Covid-19, and may have worse outcomes from Covid-19.”
The new statement comes as the disease afflicts young people in some countries at rates that are surprising, given initial data out of China, and some health experts speculate as to whether vaping could play a role.
Other US agencies have issued mixed warnings on both smoking and vaping. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, wrote a recent blog post warning that the coronavirus “could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.”
The coronavirus presents a new challenge for the tobacco industry, which for years has faced lawsuits and higher taxes due to links between smoking and higher rates of lung disease. E-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. was already under fire for allegedly marketing its product to teenagers, and an amended complaint filed in San Francisco district court this month includes claims that vapers suffer a greater risk of more serious coronavirus complications.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, the vaping industry had drawn scrutiny and restrictions from federal and state governments amid a series of deaths and illnesses that were linked to faulty cannabis products.