A new study finds that smoking is doubling the number of young adults at high risk of severe COVID-19.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) examined 8,405 respondents to the National Health Interview Survey aged 18 to 25 for the severe COVID-19 risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
They found that 32 percent of respondents had at least one of the risk factors, but half of those were in the vulnerable group because of a single risk factor: smoking within the last 30 days, according to the peer-reviewed study published Monday in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
When that risk factor was removed, the percentage of medically vulnerable young people dropped to 16 percent.
“Recent evidence indicates that smoking is associated with a higher likelihood of COVID-19 progression, including increased illness severity, ICU admission or death,” Sally Adams, the UCSF professor who led the study, said in a statement. “Smoking may have significant effects in young adults, who typically have low rates for most chronic diseases.”
While people over 65 are still being hospitalized and dying from the disease at much higher rates than young adults, hospitalization rates for young people also appear to be increasing. According to CDC data, the hospitalization rate for 18- to 29-year-olds tripled from May 2 to July 4, while the rate for those over 65 only doubled.
The study discovered the risk factor placing the second-highest number of young people at risk for severe COVID-19 was asthma, which affected 9 percent of survey respondents. Roughly 20 percent reported smoking within the last 30 days.
While the CDC includes smoking tobacco or cigars within the last 30 days as a risk factor, the researchers also included e-cigarette use because of its damaging effects on the respiratory system.
The study also found that fewer young women are in the high-risk group, at 30 percent, compared with 33 percent for young men, largely because of lower rates of smoking among women.
Despite nationwide racial disparities in overall case and death rates, white young people were more likely than Black, Hispanic and Asian young people to be in the medically vulnerable group — an “unexpected” finding the researchers primarily attributed to higher smoking rates among whites.