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Analytic modeling and risk assessment of aerial transmission of SARS‑CoV‑2 virus through vaping expirations in shared micro‑environments

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Journal: Environmental Science and Pollution Research


It is well known that airborne transmission of COVID-19 in indoor spaces occurs through various respiratory activities: breathing, vocalizing, coughing, and sneezing. However, there is a complete lack of knowledge of its possible transmission through exhalations of e-cigarette aerosol (ECA), which is also a respiratory activity. E-cigarettes have become widely popular among smokers seeking a much safer way of nicotine consumption than smoking. Due to restrictive lockdown measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, many smokers and vapers (e-cigarette users) were confined to shared indoor spaces, making it necessary to assess the risk of SARS-CoV-2 virus aerial transmission through their exhalations. We summarize inferred knowledge of respiratory particles emission and transport through ECA, as well as a theoretical framework for explaining the visibility of exhaled ECA, which has safety implications and is absent in other respiratory activities (apart from smoking). We also summarize and briefly discuss the effects of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, vaccination rates, and environmental factors that may influence the spread of COVID-19. To estimate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 virus aerial transmission associated with vaping exhalations, we adapt a theoretical risk model that has been used to analyze the risks associated with other respiratory activities in shared indoor spaces. We consider home and restaurant scenarios, with natural and mechanical ventilation, with occupants wearing and not wearing face masks. We consider as “control case” or baseline risk scenario an indoor space (home and restaurant) where respiratory droplets and droplet nuclei are uniformly distributed and aerial contagion risk might originate exclusively from occupants exclusively rest breathing, assuming this to be the only (unavoidable) respiratory activity they all carry on. If an infected occupant uses an e-cigarette in a home or restaurant scenarios, bystanders not wearing face masks exposed to the resulting ECA expirations face a 1%1% increase of risk of contagion with respect the control case. This relative added risk with respect to the control case becomes 5−17%5−17% for high-intensity vaping, 44−176%44−176%, and over 260%260% for speaking for various periods or coughing (all without vaping). Infectious emissions are significantly modified by mechanical ventilation, face mask usage, vaccination, and environmental factors, but given the lack of empiric evidence, we assume as a working hypothesis that all basic parameters of respiratory activities are equally (or roughly equally) affected by these factors. Hence, the relative risk percentages with respect to the control state should remain roughly the same under a wide range of varying conditions. By avoiding direct exposure to the visible exhaled vaping jet, wearers of commonly used face masks are well protected from respiratory droplets and droplet nuclei directly emitted by mask-less vapers. Compared to the control case of an already existing (unavoidable) risk from continuous breathing, vaping emissions in shared indoor spaces pose just a negligible additional risk of COVID-19 contagion. We consider that it is not necessary to take additional preventive measures beyond those already prescribed (1.5 m separation and wearing face masks) in order to protect bystanders from this contagion.