One of the most dangerous things about e-cigarettes is that we do not know how dangerous they might be. In most of the articles I have read about e-cigarettes the conclusion is that it will take time to conduct necessary scientific research on the possible dangers of e-cigarettes. It is clear that there will be harmful side effects—e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a substance now proven to be not only addictive but also likely to be a carcinogen. E-cigarettes also contain formaldehyde, a chemical that is inhaled when vaping. There is some research to indicate that using e-cigarettes might help traditional smokers kick the habit, but we have to acknowledge there is still substantial risk to the user’s health. The dearth of scientific research on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes requires vapers to approach e-cigarette use with more caution.
A recent study, conducted at the UNC School of Medicine, led by Ilona Jaspers, professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology, and published in the American Journal of Physiology, looks at the effects of e-cigarettes on users. The study reports that vaping electronic cigarettes alters genes in the respiratory tract just as regular tobacco cigarettes. The changes brought about by the altering of cells can increase the risks of bacterial infections, viruses, and inflammation.
The researchers noted, “Despite the common perception that vaping e-cigarettes is a safe alternative to cigarettes, the data shown here demonstrate the need for further studies related to changes in respiratory immune health induced by vaping e-cigarettes.” In an email exchange with MedPage Today, Jaspers noted that the effect on gene expression among e-cigarette users in the study was actually greater than among cigarette smokers: “Our study collected observational data, and therefore we cannot speculate on whether and/or how e-cigarette use affects the overall health of these individuals. However, our observations demonstrate that e-cigarette use has an impact on the expression of genes associated with regulating immune responses and that these effects are broader than those seen in cigarette smokers,” she said. (www.medpagetoday.com, 06-24-16)
This is one of those studies that did not get much press but it is an important one nonetheless. The major advertising push from the e-cigarette industry has targeted kids. As we have learned from recent CDC studies, youth, as young as middle school, are drawn to the fun flavors and marketing of e-cigarettes. What we do not know can harm us and this study reinforces the possible long-term dangers of e-cigarettes. We cannot relax because the product is being promoted as safer than traditional smoking. While that may be true, it is a relative statement that may obscure the facts and mislead consumers. Remember, there was a time in the not too distant past when Big Tobacco maintained that tobacco cigarettes were not harmful.