The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Over the last 10+ years, with ever-increasing frequency, Marlboro, Camel and Lucky Strike have been replaced by such brands as blu, Vapor Zone and Green Smoke. But the new top sellers are not traditional cigarettes. These three brands are actually a new wave of smoking products classified as e-cigarettes. Granted we know now the health evils behind smoking nicotine-laden cigarettes but what about e-cigarettes? Are e-cigarettes still bad for people with lung disease?
Evolution of e-Cigarettes
Believe it or not, an e-cigarette is not a new product development. A man by the name of Herbert Gilbert was granted a patent in 1963 for an electronic cigarette but society was not ready for being health conscious during that time period. And the product went the way of many others: back on the shelf for a couple of decades.
What is an e-cigarette or e-cig exactly? This century’s version of the e-cigarette was created by Hon Lik, in memory of his father who had died from lung cancer. It is a well-known fact that the nicotine in cigarettes provides the smoker with an addictive yet temporary high. Pharmacist Lik’s thought was to develop a cigarette that still allowed people to experience a hit of nicotine but without the large quantity of the substance, along with many chemicals, being inhaled into the lungs.
An e-cigarette is battery-operated and works by heating a liquid to the point where a vapor is produced. It is the nicotine vapor that can be inhaled. And hence, ‘vaping’ is the term used to describe what previously masqueraded as smoking with traditional cigarettes. Compared to its tobacco cousin, the e-cigarette does not produce a cloud of smoke.
Smoking and Lung Disease
This year, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary when then U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry, MD, released the very first report warning about the health risks associated with cigarette smoking. Over the years as more and more research was conducted, the warning has become scarier. As a result, legislation on a national, state and local basis was implemented with many bans on public smoking as well as segregation to designated areas if people can’t kick the habit.
It is not a stretch to understand that inhaling nicotine and other chemicals can cause damage to a person’s lung. In fact, number one on the list of what causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is cigarette smoking. Physicians treating COPD patients will advise them to quit smoking, which will help decrease flare-ups and severity of their disease. Easier said than done. So would smoking e-cigarettes be a way to help a person stop smoking? Or are e-cigarettes still bad for people with lung disease?
e-Cigarettes Still Bad for People
Few realize that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not fully evaluated and studied the benefits and/or negative effects of e-cigarettes. And with that being said, the government organization also does not regulate them. There is also concern by the American Lung Association that smokers who want to quit mistakenly believe that e-cigarettes can be used as a viable tool to stop smoking. The organization is so concerned about public health and the absence of meaningful data on the short and long-term health effects from e-cigarettes that their stance is that people should not use e-cigarettes at all.
Equally distressing is the fact that currently there are over 250 different brands of e-cigarettes with more coming to market all the time. With no regulation, the consumer does not know what chemicals are in any of the e-cigarettes. Case in point: a FDA initial lab test, conducted in 2009, uncovered not only an anti-freeze ingredient but known cancer-causing substances.
Over the last couple of years, a number of independent studies were specifically designed to evaluate whether or not e-cigarettes were harmful to an individual’s lung health. For instance, a group located at the University of Athens in Greece looked at the short-term effects of e-cigarette vapor on the lungs. Researchers discovered that after 10 minutes of using an e-cigarette and inhaling the vapors, the airway resistance was raised in both non-smokers and current smokers. Airway resistance is used to measure lung function in order to determine the presence or absence of lung disease.
A study conducted at the University of Chicago unearthed a different and unsuspecting twist to the e-cigarette story. This group determined that even passive inhalation of the vapors from e-cigarettes acted as a cue to increase the desire to smoke in young adults.