As we all do our part to stay safe and stay healthy, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition Advocating Together for Health (APICAT) is letting our communities know that people who smoke or vape are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Vaping and smoking can harm overall lung health, weaken the immune system, and increase the risk of infectious diseases. Tobacco companies’ targeting of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities combined with COVID-19 risks as a virus that attacks the lungs brings a sense of urgency for healthy community advocates.

APICAT’s Elaine Ishihara said: “The industry wants us to believe that vaping is a better alternative to smoking cigarettes. However, in Washington State there have been 27 cases of vaping related lung injury since April 2019. Five of these cases are under the age of 20. Studies are showing that e-cigarettes both contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances which can damage the lungs. And as we are seeing with the COVID-19 pandemic, anything that can compromise your lungs, such as smoking and vaping, increases the risk of having more serious symptoms.”

AAPI communities are a key market for tobacco and vaping companies, in large part because smoking prevalence in most Asian countries is considerably higher than in the United States. Over 15,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders die in the United States each year from tobacco related illnesses.

The American Lung Association says that smoking and vaping can cause damage to the lungs, leaving lung tissue inflamed, fragile, and susceptible to infection. Tobacco is also proven to harm the immune system and airway lining cells that defend against viruses like COVID-19.

“We have long known that quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health. And it’s especially important now,” said American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Dr. Albert Rizzo in a statement. “Quitting smoking and vaping can better equip your body to fight off this disease and reduce the chance of the most severe symptoms [of COVID-19].”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that current data points to a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups as a result of COVID-19. The CDC also says that the three leading causes of death among APIs are cancer, heart disease, and stroke, all of which can be caused by cigarette smoking.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities,” Ishihara said. “We need to protect the health of our AAPI communities, particularly our youth who are increasingly using vaping products.”

According to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, one in four high school seniors vape. 10th grade use has increased from 13 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2018. And only a third of these 10th graders thought vaping was harmful.

Vaping also disproportionately affects AAPI communities. Disaggregated data of vaping from the National Youth Tobacco surveys shows that 22.7 percent of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, 21.4 percent of Japanese, and 20 percent of Khmer and Cambodian students vape, compared to 15.3 percent of white students.

“During and after this COVID-19 pandemic, we want all of our communities, especially our youth, to know the risks of vaping and smoking,” Ishihara said. “We need to do all we can do to stay healthy.”

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