Don’t Vape Your Health Away

Woman inhaling from an electronic cigarette. (Getty Images)
E-cigarettes and vaping are becoming increasingly popular. On Great American Smokeout Day, a UConn Health pulmonary specialist discusses the hazards of this growing trend. (Getty Images)

Thursday, Nov. 16 is the Great American Smokeout, the day when the American Cancer Society calls on Americans to quit smoking. Last year, a U.S. Surgeon General report revealed that the most commonly used tobacco product among teens and young adults is e-cigarettes. In fact, vaping has skyrocketed by 900 percent in the last five years, and is a significant public health concern. Pulmonary specialist Dr. Mario F. Perez discusses the hazards of the growing e-cigarette and vaping trend with UConn Today.

Q. What are the health impacts of using e-cigarettes and vaping?
A.
The liquid in e-cigs or vapes usually has nicotine, a derivative of tobacco, which is addictive, plus they can often have flavoring or other potentially harmful chemicals that can be inhaled as tiny particles deep into the lungs. Studies have shown that those who vape may have more upper airway respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat, etc. Also, recently at least three studies have linked vaping with asthma in teenagers. However, there are only a few human studies so far, and no long-term study has been published yet about the side-effects and safety of vaping.

Dr. Mario Perez looks on as a study participant takes a lung function test. (Lauren Woods/UConn Health Photo)
Dr. Mario Perez looks on as a study participant takes a lung function test. (Lauren Woods/UConn Health Photo)

Q. What research is currently underway?
A. There is a lot of research currently going on about the effects of e-cigarettes and vaping in-vitro and in animals, and just recently a rise in human studies. For example, I am principal investigator of one study at UConn Health’s Clinical Research Center examining the airway inflammation that e-cigarettes may cause in users and comparing it to healthy non-smokers. Our research study is looking at how the human body, particularly the airways, reacts to the regular use of e-cigarettes, and what type of inflammatory response in the airways vaping and its chemicals may trigger. Plus, our research will also look at the impact of additives such as flavoring on airway inflammation. The study is currently recruiting study subjects. To learn more visit, here.

Q. Could vaping be healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes?
A.
This is perhaps the most controversial question. Many physicians in the community, and particularly in the European Union, have strong feelings about the potential harm reduction of using these products compared to conventional cigarettes. In fact in the U.K., e-cigs have been recommended as an alternative to cigarettes. I believe that their conclusion and that recommendation may have been premature and that more research is needed to really recommend these products as an alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes. Additionally, if the manufacturers of e-cigs really thought that these products could be used as a tool to quit smoking conventional cigarettes, they would be testing them under FDA guidance in order to commercialize them in that manner. Sadly, thus far the trials that have been conducted in looking at e-cigs as a tool to quit smoking conventional cigarettes have failed to show benefit from their use for this purpose.

Q. Are e-cigarettes acting as a gateway to children turning to conventional cigarette smoking?
A.
We do know that children are experimenting with e-cigarettes and vaping products at a very high level, and there is concern in the medical community that these products may serve as the gateway to nicotine dependence and perhaps cigarette smoking at a later age.

Q. Are smoking cessation programs helping people quit?
A. Yes! From the medical literature, even a health provider just telling a patient to quit smoking has a substantial effect. We also know that receiving proper counseling, along with nicotine replacement therapy and FDA-approved pharmaceutical interventions, does have a significant effect on helping patients quit smoking. The Wellness and Smoking Cessation Program at the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health is available to help patients, along with other local smoking cessation programs.