The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Are E-Cigarettes a Healthy Choice?
Many ex-smokers have found that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes because they eliminate smoke from being inhaled into the lungs. There are, however, several things to be aware of if you decide to smoke e-cigarettes. While they might be better than smoking traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes can still be detrimental to your lung health, especially if you have a lung disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease.
What You Need to Know about E-Cigarettes
The American Lung Association advises that we can’t be certain on what ingredients are in e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine that has been extracted from tobacco and mixed with a base (typically propylene glycol), flavorings, colorings and other chemicals. Today there are about 500 e-cigarette brands on the market and 7,700 different flavors.
A recent study published in the journal Tobacco Control concludes that certain flavors can be more harmful than others. The study evaluated the chemical amount present in e-cigarettes, and studied 30 different flavors, including popular flavors like vanilla, cherry, coffee, bubble gum, chocolate, cotton candy, grape, apple, menthol and tobacco. Here is what researchers found from the study:
- Flavor chemicals make up about one to four percent of e-cigarette liquid.
- Six out of the 24 compounds that are used to flavor the liquids were found to include aldehydes, a class of chemical that is a respiratory irritant.
- “The concentrations of some flavor chemicals in e-cigarette fluids are sufficiently high for inhalation exposure by vaping to be of toxicological concern,” senior study author James Pankow, a chemist at Portalnd State University in Oregon, and his team reported.
- This chemical isn’t cause for major health concerns in small doses, however the concern is long-term exposure for someone who vapes daily. For those using e-cigarettes every day, there is a good chance that they will be exposed to levels of this chemical that are higher than workplace safety exposure limits.
“Obviously people haven’t been using these cigarettes for 25 years, so there’s no data to know what the consequences are from long-term exposures,” Pankow said. “If you can’t look at longitudinal data, you just have to look at what’s in there and whether there things to be worried about.”
Another flavor study was led by Temperance Rowell of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the results were presented at the 2015 American Thoracic Society International Conference. The study found that, out of the 13 flavors that were tested, Hot Cinnamon Candies, Banana Pudding and Menthol appeared to be the most harmful flavors, and Peanut Butter Cookie and Captain Zack Cigar seemed to be the least harmful. Researchers came to this conclusion based on the amount of damage the flavors did to the cells that line the respiratory tract.
A Few Final Thoughts
While e-cigarettes might seem like a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, and in many ways are, they still don’t come without a risk. The best way to promote lung health is to be completely tobacco free, however, if you choose to vape e-cigarettes, it is important to be aware of the risks, especially if you have been diagnosed with a debilitating lung disease.