Cigarettes have long been considered the carriers of death and disease. In the past, relatives could smoke in the car, or movie stars could take a seductive drag on the big screen. However, with the recognition of the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, the popularity of cigarettes has declined, and it is becoming harder to find places to smoke legally without facing the consequences.
In recent years, the vaping industry has emerged as an alternative, offering a flavored and less odorous experience. Many people see vaping as the lesser of two evils, but the evidence is accumulating that e-cigarettes may be just as dangerous as traditional tobacco products.
A recent study conducted by Carolyn Baglole and her team at Montreal’s McGill University found that vaping causes significant cellular and molecular changes in mice, especially in their lungs.
The study exposed eight to twelve-week-old mice to Juul pods, which are the original and most popular sleek vape brand, three times a day over a four-week period. The mice were given one puff per minute, with about three hours in between each session, mimicking the habits of light and moderate Juul users. The findings were alarming, as the mice showed evidence of lung inflammation and molecular damage, meaning the smoke changed the way information was “read” from their DNA.
This could indicate that vaping could lead to the development of inflammatory or autoimmune diseases and put vapers at a higher risk of chronic lung disease or certain lung cancers.
History & Use of E-cigarettes
E-cigarettes were originally developed in the late 00s as a tool to help wean smokers off the hundreds of carcinogens in a typical cigarette. E-cigarettes work by delivering nicotine to the brain via fewer chemical toxins, which was seen as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco products. However, instead of helping to end tobacco use, vaping has spread rapidly, particularly among young people, many of whom were never smokers, to begin with. This has led to former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declaring youth vaping a national epidemic in 2018.
Despite the widespread use of vape products, there is still very little research on the health impact of inhaling these aerosols. Scientists still do not know much about the long-term effects on the human body. The lack of research on the health impact of e-cigarettes is a significant concern, as millions of people now use these products daily.
The study conducted by Baglole’s team supports the limited human research that has already been done on the subject. The results demonstrate that even low, repeated exposure to vape smoke can impact the lungs at a cellular and molecular level. This means that vaping makes the body more vulnerable to developing inflammatory or autoimmune diseases and puts vapers at a higher risk of chronic lung disease or certain lung cancers.
Another significant finding of the study was an increase in the mice’s lung neutrophils, also known as white blood cells that fight off infections. While more white blood cells might seem like a good thing for the body, Baglole believes that vaping could be causing a chain reaction that scientists can’t see yet. The smoke could trigger an alarm signal to the body, asking the immune system to help against potential danger, which could make the body more vulnerable to developing inflammatory or autoimmune diseases.
It is not just the lack of research on the health impact of e-cigarettes that is concerning. The marketing of e-cigarettes has been aimed at young people, with companies like Juul being largely responsible for promoting e-cigarettes to teens and younger audiences. In 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration even tried to ban Juul products from the market, although the ban was temporary.
Although the results need further confirmation through studies on humans, this study adds to the growing evidence that any form of smoking is harmful. Baglole advises people to eliminate exposure to these types of products but notes that vaping may still be a lesser evil compared to traditional tobacco smoking. Another expert, Crotty Alexander, also states that vaping is more harmful than previously thought but still a lesser evil than traditional smoking.