A New Study Reveals Link Between Vaping and Long-term Risk of Lung Disease
Thu, April 22, 2021

A New Study Reveals Link Between Vaping and Long-term Risk of Lung Disease

People who use vape or e-cigarettes over a long period of time are at an increased risk of respiratory diseases, including chronic bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD / Photo by: gresei via Shutterstock

 

People who use vape or e-cigarettes over a long period of time are at an increased risk of respiratory diseases, including chronic bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine established the link between the use of e-cigarettes and long-term respiratory disease in a three-year analysis. The results of the study raised awareness and added to the growing body of evidence of the potential harms of using these alternatives to tobacco products.

 

An Early Finding

Researchers analyzed data from 32,320 Americans from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health collected from 2013 to 2016. The analysis determined whether the adults were diagnosed with lung or respiratory conditions and if they ever used e-cigarettes, smoked cigarettes, or other combustible tobacco products.

Former and current users of e-cigarettes were found to be "significantly associated" with risks of developing respiratory disease, CNN reported. It added that a stronger independent link was found with former and current cigarette smokers or other combustible tobacco, who only smoke cigarettes or use it along with e-cigarettes.

"The risks of e-cigarettes and cigarettes are independent of each other, and so if you're a dual user, meaning you're smoking and using e-cigarettes at the same time, you have the risks of smoking multiplied by the risks of e-cigarette use," said Stanton Glantz, the senior author of the study from the University of California.

The possibility of developing lung disease among e-cigarette users increased by 1.3 times while the same outcomes were slightly higher for smokers (1.6 times). Dual users are at the highest risk at 3.3 times.

"I was a little surprised that we could find evidence on incident lung disease in the longitudinal study because three years is a while, but most studies that look at the development of lung disease go over 10 to 20 years," Glanz said, as per CNN. "It's the first longitudinal study in the general population to link e-cigs with chronic lung disease. It's the first longitudinal study in the general population to link e-cigs with chronic lung disease."

Former and current users of e-cigarettes were found to be "significantly associated" with risks of developing respiratory disease, CNN reported / Photo by: Kurylo Sofiya via Shutterstock

 

But Not a Surprise

Robert Tarran, a professor at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, said it's only fair to say that the recent analysis provides additional evidence to support the claim that e-cigarettes are harmful to the lungs including the risks of developing respiratory diseases like COPD, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or asthma.

Since the respiratory system's main job is to ensure the flow of air into the body while also removing gases, the researchers said it may not be a surprise that the lungs would respond poorly to the harmful ingredients in e-cigarettes. NPR said earlier studies have also pointed out multiple ways of how vaping can be harmful to the lungs.

NPR is an independent, nonprofit media organization founded on a mission to create a more informed public. It delivers breaking national and world news as well as top stories from business, politics, health, science, technology, music, arts, and culture.

The media organization added that, for instance, some of these studies show that vaping can lead to inflammation and "tamp down" immune defenses. Tarran said using e-cigarettes can change the body's inflammatory processes and "actually seems to cause immunosuppression that leaves people more prone to infection."

The professor noted that nicotine is not the only culprit as other ingredients like propylene glycol, glycerin, and flavoring compounds may also lead to harmful effects when heated or inhaled.

"Everything I've seen on data in the lungs suggests e-cigarettes are not safer" than cigarettes, he said, adding that researchers are only beginning to understand the long-term effects of vaping since it's relatively new to the industry.

"I think the picture is changing as more data on e-cigarettes comes out."

Uncovering Patterns

The new study may be a piece of additional evidence proving e-cigarette use is harmful, but it did not prove cause and effect. Time, an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City, said the results merely uncovered patterns that were present among smokers and vapers.

Still, it is among the most comprehensive research of e-cigarette use and respiratory disease to date. Earlier studies have established associations between vaping and some of the respiratory diseases it may cause, but they have mostly examined snapshots in time instead of changes over a certain period.

For Glantz, three years isn't a long time to study vapers since most of the participants in their study entered as smokers and possibly started the habit earlier, thus allowing risks to manifest.

Time explained that a participant may have been a long-time cigarette smoker before they entered the study. But it's unlikely that most of the participants were long-time vape users considering that e-cigarettes had only been in the US market for six years when the study began in 2013, meaning long-term risks may only be starting to emerge.

"Based on what we know about the biological effects of e-cigarettes, my guess is that if we followed these people for 20 years, the e-cigarette effect would be similar [to the risks associated with smoking,]" the senior author said.

This and other recent studies should be enough by now to ring the alarm bells among e-cigarette smokers. But sadly, from all indications, most of them will ignore the results until it’s become too late for them.