Background. E-cigarettes are an important harm reduction tool that provides smokers an alternative for nicotine consumption that is much safer than smoking. It is important to asses its safety under preventive and containment measures undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods. We develop a theoretical risk model to assess the contagion risk by aerial transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus carried by e–cigarette aerosol (ECA) in shared indoor spaces, a home and restaurant scenarios, with natural and mechanical ventilation, with and without face masks. We also provide the theoretical elements to explain the visibility of exhaled ECA, which has important safety implications.
Results. In a home or restaurant scenarios bystanders exposed to ECA expirations by an infectious vaper (and not wearing face masks) face a 1% increase of risk of contagion with respect to a “control case” scenario defined by exclusively rest breathing without vaping. This relative added risk becomes 5 - 17% for high intensity vaping, 44 - 176% and over 260% for speaking for various periods or coughing (all without vaping). Mechanical ventilation significantly decrease infective emissions but keep the same proportionality in risk percentages. Face masks of common usage effectively protect wearers from respiratory droplets and droplet nuclei possibly emitted by mask-less vapers as long as they avoid direct exposure to the visible exhaled vaping jet.
Conclusions. Vaping emissions in shared indoor spaces involve only a minuscule added risk of COVID-19 contagion with respect to the already existing (unavoidable) risk from continuous breathing, significantly less than speaking or coughing. Protection of bystanders from this contagion does not require extra preventive measures besides those already recommended (1.5 meters separation and wearing face masks).