If you have Asthma or COPD, which combines Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis, not smoking is vital because tobacco is a major risk factor for both conditions. According to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, smoking is the leading cause of disease and death in the United States. You may have switched to electronic cigarettes, assuming they’re safer than conventional tobacco cigarettes — but are you sure they won’t cause further lung damage? Be sure to understand E-Cigarette health risks.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that emit a vapor containing nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals for you to inhale. Most models look like regular cigarettes while some resemble pens, USB drives and other everyday objects. They can come in sweet flavors like cherry, green apple, strawberry and watermelon, but don’t let the fruity tastes fool you.
Because multiple reports indicate e-liquids and the resulting vapor contain contaminants, the FDA recently proposed e-Cigarette Industry Regulations. A dramatic increase in poison center inquiries about e-cigarette nicotine poisonings supported the need for federal oversight. The Centers for Disease Control reported that monthly calls rose from about one in 2010 to 215 in February 2014. Without regulation, Dr. Hilary Tindle, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s tobacco treatment service, cautions that it is impossible to know what you inhale when using e-cigarettes.
E-Liquids Might Contain Carcinogens
According to a new study, the liquids that produce e-cigarette vapors could contain carcinogens or harmful ingredients. Researchers found that high-power e-cigarette tank systems produce overheated vapor containing formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Larger than typical e-cigarettes, these devices vaporize liquid nicotine quickly to give users a stronger hit.
Smoking E-Cigarettes May Reduce Lung Function
University of Athens researchers conducted multiple studies at Sotiria Hospital. One reported that smoking e-cigarettes appeared to decrease subjects’ lung function and cause other detrimental effects. About 90 percent of asthmatic smokers and 63 percent of COPD smokers reported adverse symptoms when smoking e-cigarettes. Pulmonary medicine resident Sofia Vakali, M.D., said the study showed that using an e-cigarette just once increased sore throats, coughing and heart rate.
The study team compared symptoms and enjoyment in asthmatic smokers, smokers with COPD, symptom-free smokers and nonsmokers. Following e-cigarette use, 91 percent of asthmatics experienced sore throats, compared to 62 percent of COPD patients, 65 percent of symptom-free smokers and 74 percent of nonsmokers. Also 66 percent of asthmatic smokers experienced coughing, compared to 69 percent of COPD smokers, 69 percent of symptom-free smokers and 54 percent of nonsmokers.
Vakali also found reduced oxygen saturation after e-cigarette smoking. Common symptoms for all participants included dry mouth and eye irritation. Despite adverse affects, 25 percent of asthmatic smokers got pleasure from smoking e-cigarettes, compared to 44 percent of COPD smokers, 51 percent of symptom-free smokers and 18 percent of the non-smokers.
A second study compared subjects smoking nicotine-free e-cigarettes against those smoking e-cigarettes laced with 11 milligrams of nicotine. All participants had an increase in exhaled carbon monoxide. In a third study, Georgios Kaltsakas, M.D., a respiratory physician, found that smoking e-cigarettes decreased specific airway conductance. After just 10 minutes, airway resistance increased significantly in both smokers and nonsmokers.
All studies associated asthma and COPD symptom increases and lung function declines with e-cigarette use.
Vapor May Affect Respiratory Diseases Adversely
RTI International, a North Carolina research institute, found that when you inhale e-cigarette vapor, tiny particles may cause or worsen respiratory diseases. Lead investigator Jonathan Thornburg, a senior research engineer, found that the chemicals in e-cigarettes dissolve into your lung tissue. If the particles are harmful, they can cause damage throughout your lungs.
Thornburg’s team tested e-cigarette vapor on a new smoking machine that replicates the physical experiences of a 14-year-old boy. An e-cigarette liquid that creates a tobacco flavor produced particles measuring about 184 nanometers. A fruit punch flavored liquid created particles about 270 nanometers in size. Both fall within cigarette smoke’s particle range.
The researchers also discovered that e-cigarette use deposited 47 percent of inhaled emissions in the lungs. Nearly all of the particles reached the deepest part of the lungs. When the machine exhaled, the remaining 53 percent of e-cigarette emissions created a potential source for secondhand exposure to nearby people.
E-cigarette liquids’ main ingredients are Glycerin and Glycol Ethers, which aren’t harmful. Nicotine, chemicals that create flavors and scents along with BHA and BHT preservatives dissolve easily into these liquid carriers. Some of these chemicals are safe if you ingest them, but inhalation may not be, Thornburg cautioned. With so many e-cigarette liquids and devices available from multiple manufacturers, he concluded that each combination could create a unique exposure that could impact the user as well as bystanders.
Your Next Healthy Steps
After reviewing multiple study results, Dr. Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association’s senior medical advisor, reported that the ALA doesn’t believe e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to traditional tobacco. Dr. Christopher Bullen, director of the National Institute for Health Innovation in Auckland, New Zealand, noted that people also are concerned if long-term use could cause cancer.
With so many potential risks, using e-cigarettes isn’t the healthiest way to quit smoking. You may want to switch to the prescription Chantix (Varenicline) or over-the-counter options like Nicoderm Patchesor Nicorette Gum. If you’re using e-cigarettes instead of tobacco to continue smoking, commit to quit to protect your lungs from further damage. Using your asthma or COPD prescription medication like Spiriva can help open your airways and relieve your symptoms.