AmeriHealth Caritas Urges Americans to Reduce Coronavirus Risk by Quitting Smoking and Vaping
Behaviors compromise lung health, can increase vulnerability to COVID-19 infection
AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other health care solutions for those most in need, cautions that electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use can lead to poorer health outcomes for people living below the federal poverty level, who are disproportionately affected by smoking-related health issues.
Some health officials are becoming increasingly alarmed by the possibility that vaping could make COVID-19 worse. Vaping, the use of e-cigarettes, can cause dangerous lung and respiratory problems, which could aggravate the symptoms of COVID-19.
At a recent press briefing on COVID-19, Dr. Sharon Watkins of the Pennsylvania Department of Health cautioned, “We do know that vaping is related to lung injury and lung injury is one of the risk factors for more severe presentation in COVID-19.” Watkins, the PA State Epidemiologist, said smokers should reduce or stop vaping to avoid COVID-19 complications.
Smoking has been designated as an underlying medical condition by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because it weakens the immune system, which increases the risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The American Lung Association also believes smokers are a high-risk group.
“COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, it attacks the lungs. That means people who smoke regular cigarettes, marijuana or vape should take extra precautions and consider themselves at higher risk for complications from COVID-19,” said Deborah Brown, chief mission officer of the American Lung Association. “And that means that there has never been a better time to quit smoking — use this current disruption of your regular schedule to create a new tobacco and smoke-free plan.”
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaping was deemed a growing public health issue, said Dr. Andrea Gelzer, senior vice president of medical affairs at AmeriHealth Caritas. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of fruit, dessert and mint-flavored e-cigarette pods which are popular with teenagers, but exempted menthol-flavored pods containing nicotine for adult users who may be trying to make a switch from traditional cigarettes.
“We are at risk of having a generation with significant respiratory problems caused by vaping,” Dr. Gelzer said. “People are becoming addicted to nicotine through vaping, which is not a safe or viable smoking cessation strategy.”
Through the first two months of the year there already were more than 2,800 lung injury cases and about 70 deaths in the United States and the District of Columbia associated with the use of e-cigarettes, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The aerosol created by e-cigarettes can contain harmful substances, including nicotine, heavy metals like lead, volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing agents.
Like traditional combustible cigarettes, e-cigarettes are being marketed and sold in retail locations concentrated in communities “at higher risk for adverse health outcomes, including communities whose residents have lower incomes, greater racial diversity, and lower educational attainment,” according to a recent report by the Public Health Law Center, a St. Paul, Minn.-based organization that provides legal and policy analysis to support efforts to reduce and eliminate commercial tobacco products.
Dr. Gelzer said e-cigarette use may worsen existing health disparities in vulnerable communities, especially those that have been disproportionately affected by smoking-related diseases and who have been historically targeted by tobacco marketers.
“We encourage and provide assistance to our members to quit smoking – including free cessation counseling and nicotine replacement products – because it is important to protect one’s health,” she said. “Nicotine is highly addictive and it can be very difficult to quit. There are safer and more effective methods for quitting smoking than e-cigarettes.”