The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, overlaps with the ongoing epidemics of cigarette smoking and electronic cigarette (e-cig) vaping. However, there is scarce data relating COVID-19 risks and outcome with cigarette or e-cig use. In this study, we mined three independent RNA expression datasets from smokers and vapers to understand the potential relationship between vaping/smoking and the dysregulation of key genes and pathways related to COVID-19. We found that smoking, but not vaping, upregulates ACE2, the cellular receptor that SARS-CoV-2 requires for infection. Both smoking and use of nicotine and flavor-containing e-cigs led to upregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines and inflammasome-related genes. Specifically, chemokines including CCL20 and CXCL8 are upregulated in smokers, and CCL5 and CCR1 are upregulated in flavor/nicotine-containing e-cig users. We also found genes implicated in inflammasomes, such as CXCL1, CXCL2, NOD2, and ASC, to be upregulated in smokers and these e-cig users. Vaping flavor and nicotine-less e-cigs, however, did not lead to significant cytokine dysregulation and inflammasome activation. Release of inflammasome products, such as IL-1B, and cytokine storms are hallmarks of COVID-19 infection, especially in severe cases. Therefore, our findings demonstrated that smoking or vaping may critically exacerbate COVID-19-related inflammation or increase susceptibility to COVID-19.
Keywords: ACE2; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; cytokines; electronic cigarettes; immune response; inflammation; tobacco; vaping.