What Is And What Will Be
There are still plenty of misconceptions about the effect that vaping has, but there has also been a lot of research and evidence gathered in recent years. So, what does this evidence tell us about the reality of vaping? Let’s take a look at some of this research to understand more about vaping and how it affects our lungs.
Because vaping is such a new phenomenon there hasn’t been the same amount of research into the health effects as smoking has received. The more research we have, the more reliable and accurate the findings will be.
One study taking place over a couple of months and involving a dozen vapers might not produce very accurate results. But hundreds of studies taking place over years and involving thousands of vapers are more likely to produce reliable results. So, each new study gives us a better picture of how vaping really affects the lungs.
Cultures And Cells
Studies using cultured cells
One way of researching the effect of vaping on lung tissue is to expose cultures of lung cells to vapour and study the reaction.
This can be easier than using and examining living lungs and a lot of the early research into vaping used cultured cells. But it can be difficult judging how much vapour cells should be exposed to and for how long to represent the amount an average vapour inhales. As a result of this difficulty, studies like this don’t produce strong conclusions.
For example, one study involved lung cells exposed to five hundred times more nicotine than you would find in the average smoker’s lung cells. Obviously the results of this study are meaningless as this doesn’t represent the reality of how much vapour we’re exposed to.
Other studies have produced results that are more reliable though.
The majority of studies using cells taken from human lungs have indicated that any toxic effect on these cells was the result of flavouring chemicals, not the VG, PG or nicotine. Although one study did conclude that nicotine might be a slight factor.
Two studies found signs of inflammation in cells exposed to e-cigarette vapour but another study found no inflammation and no damage to DNA, unlike cigarette smoke which has been consistently shown to damage DNA which can lead to cancer. Another study found that cells exposed to cigarette smoke showed between four hundred and eight hundred percent more damage than cells exposed to vapour.
Studies using living lungs
Another way of examining the effect of e-cigarette vapour on lungs is to use human subjects instead of cells. These studies are more difficult and time consuming to carry out but using living lungs produces more reliable results. There are fewer studies using living lungs but the results so far show very minor short term effects on lungs.
One study comparing the effect of vaping and smoking found that smoking significantly reduced lung function while vaping showed no significant effect.
Long Term Effects
One of the problems with evaluating the effect of vaping is the difficulty in getting long term results as vaping has only been around for a few years. Fortunately more and more research is being done and we’re starting to get the long term data.
Another problem is that most vapers started out as smokers who already have lung damage, making it difficult to evaluate the effect of vaping. One study used a group of vapers who had never smoked and evaluated them over forty-two months. This study measured the vapers’ lung function, respiratory symptoms, carbon monoxide, exhaled breath and high-resolution computed typography of the lungs.
The study found no decrease in lung capacity, no development of respiratory symptoms, no change in lung inflammation and no early lung damage. And although this was just one study with a small number of participants, the results are encouraging as they suggest that vaping doesn’t damage the lungs.
E-cigarettes and airway resistance
Most of the studies into the effect of vaping on the lungs have focused on inflammation, airway resistance and DNA damage. Some of these tests have shown small increases in airway resistance after vaping, but the change is so small that it’s likely to be clinically insignificant.
The increase in airway resistance is small enough that it could be caused by a number of factors and more research would be needed to know for certain. But the results so far don’t necessarily indicate that vaping can cause long term damage.
When surveyed many vapers who are ex-smokers stated that they felt their airways and lung function had improved after switching to vaping. This might not be accurate, but it does support the research we’ve seen so far.
PG And VG
Propylene Glycol (PG) and Vegetable Glycerin (VG) are the two most common ingredients used in e-liquids and both have been used in food production for years. A number of studies have been done into the effect of PG and VG when vaped.
Studies involving rats and dogs have found some signs of irritation after several months of exposure to VG and PG vapour, but no indication that either ingredient was toxic to the lungs.
Another study that examined the effect of a Propylene Glycol smoke machine found signs of irritation and coughing in subjects closest to the source of the PG fog. Although vaping with PG might not have the same effect as the smoke machine in this study, it suggests that PG can affect the lungs over time.
A variety of studies have been carried out in recent years and more needs to be done to give us the clearest possible picture of how vaping affects the lungs. But the results from testing cell cultures and the lungs of actual vapers shows that vaping is significantly better than smoking.
Vaping might cause some irritation over time, but the evidence isn’t certain about this yet.
The weight of evidence we have so far is why organisations like Public Health England agree that vaping is around ninety-five percent safer than smoking.