Does vaping damage the lungs? This is a very common question that both vapers and the general public ask on a frequent basis. It seems as though the answer depends on who you ask. If you were to take a poll among friends and family, I am betting that the results would indicate that most people think that vaping is just as bad as smoking. That certainly is the message that the special interests have been force-feeding the mainstream media and the message is getting out there.
It was only a couple of years ago that most Americans regarded electronic cigarettes to be safer than tobacco. Last year, an electronic cigarette survey conducted by Harvard University showed that the pendulum had swung the other direction and more and more people were adopting a negative view of electronic cigarettes. That trend has only continued as millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars have been funneled into anti-vaping campaigns.
We have seen millions spent by the California Department of Public Health and the CDC to scare people about vaping. There is a government funded website called Still Blowing Smoke that speaks of the horror of vaping nicotine, and then the people who pay for the website turn around and recommend that smokers use FDA, Big Pharma nicotine replacement therapies. The thickness of the hypocrisy apparently beyond them. More recently, the CDC funded an anti-vaping campaign where they call vapers stupid sheep. Electronic cigarettes and the vaping community are under a barrage of attacks.
Vaping Vs Smoking
The FDA has not yet determined if vaping is a safer alternative to smoking. Other public health agencies such as Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians have publicly stated their position that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking. However, in the US no one can make that claim. As a result, no one can ultimately declare is vaping bad for you or not.
We can say that smoke and vapor are not the same thing. Smoke is a result of combustion. We do know that smoke contains toxins and carcinogens that are very damaging to human health. Vapor is produced by heating a liquid that may or may not contain nicotine. Most e-liquids do contain nicotine although some vapers opt for nicotine free e-liquids. Vapor does not involve burning, tar or ash.
Whether or not vaping damages the lungs or causes other health issues is unknown. Vaping has not been approved as a smoking cessation method nor is vaping recognized as a safer alternative by the FDA. Research continues and we at ECCR are looking forward to more answers in the future. We are skeptical of bias research coming from both sides of the argument and advise all of our readers to critically consider vaping claims both for and against. In the meantime, our focus is on helping identify the vapor products that are of the best quality and deliver the most enjoyment to adult tobacco consumers.
Biased E-cigarette Research
Does vaping damage the lungs? Thee has been some research that indicated that e-liquid may cause lung cells to be susceptible to infection. One of the studies in question actually used e-liquid to interact with cells and not aerosol or vapor. They basically took lung cells and dropped e-liquid on them. Another study examined lung cells after 60 minutes of exposure to cigarette smoke and 60 minutes of exposure to vapor. In that study researchers concluded that vaping was 97% to 70% less toxic than smoking.
The point is that the studies regarding electronic cigarettes are all over the map. The current position of US health authorities is that no one can definitively claim one way or the other if vaping damages the lungs. Nor can anyone claim there is any benefit from switching from cigarettes to vapor products.
If one were forced to characterize the general establishment attitude toward vaping it would be very difficult not to classify that attitude as adversarial. Regulators and anti-smoking groups generally have a negative view of vaping. Does this bias impact e-cigarette research. Dr. Robert West says yes.
The results of a new vaping study published in the journal “Toxicology Letters” has found that vaping does not damage the lungs at a genetic level. The researchers carries out testing using Vype electronic cigarettes, which is a standard, basic ecig design. They used the vape devices normally as human vapors do as opposed to biased researchers that use variable power mods set to extremes that no human being would ever vape at. The results were pretty dramatic.
They compared the effect of cigarette smoke on lung cells to the effect of vapor on lung cells. The damage that was caused by the toxins in cigarette smoke was readily evident. However, the same tests showed that e-cigarette vapor did not cause damage. The scientists actually exposed the lung cells to 28 times more vapor than smoke and still no damage was observed.
The researchers used “lab based cellular tests” that exposed lung cells in a way that mimics exposure when smoking or vaping. The scientists were looking for DNA damage. The worst form of DNA damage would be a “double-strand” break in which both strands of the DNA molecule are broken. A double stand break is the most serious type of genetic damage.
Smoking Is Genotoxic
The researchers found that smoking caused significant genetic damage to lung cells. They found that the more smoke that they exposed the cells to, the more damage that observed. The results confirm that smoking is genotoxic and cases genetic damage.
When the strands of the DNA molecule are broken, it will attempt to repair itself using available proteins. This is when problems and mutations can occur. That means a potential for disease.
It is important to note, and the critics will focus on this, that this study was funded and carried out by British American Tobacco. Bias will be assumed by many. We should also be skeptical but when they say that they exposed the lung cells to 28 times the equivalent of tobacco smoke and did not detect any genetic damage, that is extremely noteworthy. The conclusion of the study was that electronic cigarette vapor is not genotoxic nor is it cytotoxic. (Cytotoxic means toxic to living cells.)
The Issue Of Ecig Flavors And Lung Damage
There have been a few studies that claim that e-cig flavors cause lung damage. If you ask these researchers “does vaping damage the lungs” they will say yes. Let’s dive down into this a little bit. This basically started when researchers found diacetyl in a large number of e-liquid brands that they tested. This set off alarm bells.
Diacetyl is an approved food additive that tastes like butter. It is regarded as safe but when it is inhaled it appears to represent a threat and has been linked to lung damage. This was first noticed when some popcorn factory workers developed a condition known as bronchiolitis obliteratans. The condition came to be known as popcorn lung.
Popcorn lung is a very serious lung disease. Two things here. There is more diacetyl in cigarette smoke than there is in vapor and there are no known cases of anyone contracting popcorn lung from vaping. That said, we at ECCR do recommend using e-liquids that do not use diacetyl, acetoin or acetyl proprionyl. The good e-liquid companies list ingredients and it is easy to avoid these additives by sticking with the best quality e-juice brands.
Shortly after the popcorn lung news came another study that identified cherry flavored e-liquids as being prone to generating benzaldehyde in vapor. The thing that e-cigarette researchers never seem to grasp are the differences in the available e-cigarette devices and e-liquids. Yes, there are bad e-liquids. But there are also very high quality e-juice companies that actually know what they are doing.
All E-Liquids Are Not Equal
Don’t Buy E-Liquid From This Guy!
There have now been a couple of studies that have shown that a large number of random e-lqiuid brands are selling e-liquids with incorrect nicotine concentrations and diacetyl or acetoin in the ingredients. Acetoin is a flavor additive that the body converts into diacetyl. The studies that have shown this come from all sides of the vaping argument. Both pro-vaping, neutral and pro-vaping studies have come up with similar findings. Those findings indicate that more than 70% of random e-liquid brands tested showed the presence of diacetyl or acetoin.
Look, there are hundreds of e-liquid brands. The reality is that many of them are blended by well-intentioned amateurs who simply do not know what they are doing. Let me outline a frequent scenario.
E-liquid blenders want to be able to tell people that their e-juice recipes are diacetyl free. Many unqualified e-lqiuid companies simply buy flavoring from anywhere, even eBay. They look at the flavor ingredients and do not see diacetyl and they assume that means there is no diacetyl present. But that is not always the case.
Flavor Manufacturers Allowed To Withhold Some Details
There are a lot of companies making food based flavors for human consumption. The FDA requires that these companies disclose their ingredients. But, the FDA allows for some proprietary leeway. For example, Joe Blo’s Flavors does not have to label everything in their ingredients because that recipe is their property and they have a right to protect it. As a result, just because a flavor label does not say diacetyl or acetoin does not mean that it is not present.
It takes a lab facility staffed by professional chemists to truly understand al of the compounds that go into an e-juice recipe. The best e-liquid makers like VaporFi, Halo, Black Note and a few others all are made is state of the art labs staffed with professionals that know what they are doing. These same companies also offer independent lab reports to verify the quality and ingredients of their vape juices. This is what you want. Demand quality and transparency and perhaps avoid the boutique, regional brands unless you can be certain of the manufacturing process they use and the quality of the ingredients.
All E-Cigs Are Not Equal
You can’t even begin to speculate an answer to the question “does vaping damage the lungs” unless you know which electronic cigarette product is being used and how it is being used. Most researchers from academia have no real understanding of vaping and they consider one e-cig to be like any other. That is ridiculous. All e-cigs are not equal.
The quality of an electronic cigarette varies as much if not mores than the quality of other electronic devices on the market. For example if you see a Samsung TV you know it is going to be very good quality. If you see a very cheap deal on a flatscreen made by a company called “Awesome TVs” you are going to be skeptical! As well you should. The same goes for e-cigs. There are a handful of trusted brands and the rest are not so good. There is also a huge problem with fake, clone and counterfeit electronic cigarettes. Make sure to always check your product’s authenticity code. Be aware of the business practices of the e-cigarette retailer that you buy from.
Very seldom to electronic cigarette researchers fully understand the differences in electronic cigarette devices and how they are actually used. Of course we should look at the BAT study published in the Toxicology Letters journal with a critical eye, they have to be recognized for having an understanding of vaping and e-cigarette devices that other researches have been oblivious to. The Bat study identified the devices that were used for testing and the results. This may seem obvious but honestly it seldom happens.
Formaldehyde In Ecigs
Ignorance is one reason why many researchers fail to understand and account for the actual device being used as a factor in their results. Bias is the other reason. In one of the most famous and controversial e-cigarette myths we see a bit of both. The claim of formaldehyde in e-cigs has long been a weapon used by anti-vaping special interests to scare the pubic about vapor products.
Here’s what has happened. Researchers would use electronic cigarette devices at outrageous power settings that no human being would every vape at. They would burn out the atomizer coil and generate a burnt vapor. Anytime you burn something you can create toxins like formaldehyde. People do not vape burnt vapor. It would be a disgusting experience and not realistic in any way.
By the way, there has been some progress in researchers beginning to understand the importance of the e-cig devices themselves and how they are used. The Lawrence Berkley National Lab completed some good work on how different devices and how they were used impacted the vapor. They even took into account and reported on the specifics of the e-liquid they used for testing. They left a few grey areas because of lack of vaping knowledge but overall a good effort and the type of study that we all want to see the results of.
Does E-cig Vapor Affect The Lungs?
Does e-cig vapor affect the lungs? Can we really say one way or the other whether of not vaping damages the lungs? No, we cannot. The BAT study is promising although not definitive. They account for the devices and they went to extreme measures exposing lung cells to 28 times the equivalent of smoke. Smoking showed obvious damage to the lung cells. Vaping, even at 28 times the vapor vs smoke, showed no observable lung damage. No genetic damage.
The studies seem to be going back and forth on this question. It is fair to loom for bias from both sides but make sure you look into the methodologies and products that were tested. That may help provide clues.
I wish we could offer a clear answer. Does vaping damage the lungs? We may not have an answer anytime soon. The FDA will want to see long term studies before anyone can make a claim either way. Electronic cigarettes and vaping are so new, that long-term studies are basically in their infancy and it could be many years until we know more details.
If you are an adult tobacco consumer, what you can do right now is to ensure that you are using the best quality products and using them as designed. Avoid e-liquids that contain diacetyl and avoid cloned or counterfeit e-cgs that are currently flooding the market. Choosing the best quality products will make vaping more enjoyable.