Researchers in Japan have found that users of heated tobacco products were significantly more likely to contract SARS-CoV-2 and require hospitalization or oxygen. 

Heated tobacco products—an alternative to traditional cigarettes, similar to e-cigarettes or vapes—do not burn tobacco leaves but rather allow users to inhale the vapor produced by heating the tobacco leaves. Users choose heated tobacco products to avoid the smoke and odor of burnt tobacco as well as the expectation that they pose fewer health risks than traditional cigarettes. However, the long-term health effects of heated tobacco products, particularly the new risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, have not been clarified.

Addressing this concern, a research group led by associate professor Kazuhisa Asai, MD, PhD, from the Osaka Metropolitan University Graduate School of Medicine conducted a study, published in Scientific Reports, focusing on the relationship between using heated tobacco products and SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The research group investigated the relationship between tobacco use, including heated tobacco products and traditional cigarettes, with SARS-CoV-2 infection and possible exacerbations of COVID-19. They administered an online survey of living conditions in February 2022 to 30,130 participants ages 16 to 81 who were randomly selected from the general population through an online survey according to a representative distribution and conducted further statistical analyses.

From their analysis, the research group found that users of heated tobacco products—including both people who use them exclusively or in combination with traditional cigarettes—had significantly higher rates of COVID-19 compared to non-users. Furthermore, among all tobacco users, those who used both heated tobacco products and traditional cigarettes had the incidence of severe illness—requiring hospitalization or oxygen due to COVID-19.

“This study shows that the use of heated tobacco products may have an impact on SARS-CoV-2 infections and disease progression. We hope this report will encourage people to think about tobacco use in the context of the added risks due to coronavirus infection,” says Asai in a press release.