Have The Health Risks of E-cigarettes Been Underestimated? Alarming New Study Results Revealed
Engineers developed electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) several years ago to provide tobacco users a smoke-free source of nicotine. The devices heat up a liquid that a user inhales, or "vapes." Because e-cigarettes burn nothing, they release no smoke, reports ScienceNews.
E-cigarettes, marketed as safer than regular cigarettes, deliver a cocktail of toxic chemicals including carcinogens into the lungs. Using e-cigarettes may even make bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics, according to a new study published in Circulation.
"There's no question that a puff on an e-cigarette is less toxic than a puff on a regular cigarette," says Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. "But few studies have looked at the toxicity of their vapors."
Glantz and his team pored over emerging data on what vapers are inhaled. They discovered E-cigarettes deliver high levels of nanoparticles which can trigger inflammation and have been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. The levels "really raise concerns about heart disease and other chronic conditions where inflammation is involved," he says.
"People may think vaping is safe," said FDA's Priscilla Callahan-Lyon. She reviewed data from 18 studies on e-cigarettes' vapors and found that most contain at least traces of the solvents in which nicotine and flavorings had been dissolved. "Those solvents are known as lung irritants," she reports.
And the solvents can transform into something even more worrisome: carbonyls. This group includes known cancer-causing chemicals, such as formaldehyde, and suspected carcinogens, such as acetaldehyde, said Callahan-Lyon.
In addition to nicotine and solvents, vapors also contain chemical flavorings and food preservatives from the vaping liquid. Although they may be "generally recognized as safe" by FDA, Jonathan Thornburg of RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C. says, "the designation is based on tests of the compounds when they are ingested. No one has considered their safety when it comes to inhalation."
And e-cigarette vapors can even make dangerous germs harder to kill, Laura Crotty Alexander, a pulmonary and critical care physician and scientist with the VA San Diego Healthcare System, reported at an American Thoracic Society.
She exposed methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, to e-cigarette vapors. One day later, mice getting vapor-exposed germs had three times as many bacteria growing in their lungs as did mice that got unexposed germs. The germs exposed to nicotine-rich vapors secreted a thicker biofilm coating that protected them.
"We started these studies so that we could advise our smoking patients on whether they should try switching to e-cigarettes," she says. "My data now indicate they might be the lesser of the two evils. But e-cigarettes are definitely not benign."