Can you get coronavirus from a vape cloud?

Or is the idea all smoke and mirrors?
07 April 2020


Smoking an e-cigarette



A month ago as I was driving out my village I was following an SUV and a  person in the car was vaping. I saw them! After we left the village and I got on the open road my car air con was set to auto allowing external air to enter my car. I was about 75 metres behind the SUV and I could smell the vape. The vape may not be harmful and this was before the  Covid -19 pandemic. But now in a similar situation may it be possible to catch Covid-19 from exhaled air in my car? If this was so the implications are horrendous!


In our mailbox this week, Chris Smith answers the question of whether you can get coronavirus by inhaling vape clouds...

Chris - This is something I’ve wondered myself, actually. In fact, I followed a car along a road in the past, and been able to smell what the person in the car in front of me was vaping. And this got me wondering, well, if I can smell that, that’s presumably air that was previously in the lungs of the occupant of that car. And, if I can smell the vape molecules, could there also be infectious particles of virus, for instance, their rhinoviruses or adenoviruses, or in the current situation, their coronaviruses, which are making their way into my car too.

Well, I think the likelihood of that happening is extremely remote, because the amount of dilution of the air between them and you is going to be extremely considerable. But, the fact that you can smell the vape, shows you that molecules, that have that smell, were in that person, and they are telling you where the air from that person has gone.

Now that means, in theory, if there were some virus particles amongst those vape molecules, they could be following the same path, and they could also, therefore, end up in your face. There are some considerations though, which make this extremely unlikely as a route of transmission.

The main one to consider is that the vape molecules, that give it the smell, are really tiny, but the particles of virus are considerably bigger, and they’re also in droplets of water, largely, from the person’s respiratory tract. So although they’ll move a considerable distance, and they’ll bob around in the air, they won’t travel as far, and they won’t travel as fast as the smoke, or vape, from someone vaping.

So what you can regard this as is almost as a proxy for where the air from another person is going, and it should serve as a warning for how fast air can move smells and smokes, and possibly viruses around. But also take comfort from the fact that, probably the amount of virus, by the time it’s gone from that car, out of the window, and through the air conditioning unit of your car, and into your face is going to be, really, very tiny. And almost certainly lower than an infectious dose.

But if you were sharing a room with that person, or even their car, you’d be at a much greater risk, because the close proximity to them means that the virus particles would be in higher concentration, and you’re more likely to inhale what we would call an infectious dose, which in the case of this virus is probably around 20 virus particles.


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