Vaping is a new phenomenon and we don’t know much about its impact on health. While everyone is aware of the threats of smoking on the lungs and respiratory system, many questions on the negative effects of vapor are still open. Read on to discover why researching this subject is problematic and what is already known.

What is vaping and how does it work?

Vaping, or vaporizing, is the process of heating up oil, herbs, wax, or other material produced for this purpose, to the point below combustion. The heated material emits vapor defined as “a substance in the gaseous state”. The vapor is clean from tar and the majority of harmful substances that are present in tobacco smoke. For a more detailed description of the vaporizing process and e-liquids recipes visit VapingDaily.

However, vaping can’t be called absolutely risk-free. It delivers nicotine and other harmful things into the lungs and bloodstream. That’s especially true if you use e-cig juice with some flavor.

Can vaping lead to popcorn lung?

Perhaps, “popcorn lung” as an effect of vaping attracted public attention a few years ago because it sounded ridiculous and disturbing at the same time. The medical name of this disease is “bronchiolitis obliterans” (BO in short). It’s an inflammatory condition that affects the lung’s tiniest airways, the bronchioles.

The problem with this disease is that its symptoms are the same as of some other lung conditions. They include shortness of breath, wheezing, dry cough, and exhaustion. Because of this, BO often goes undiagnosed, and thus improperly treated, which leads to the disease progression.

The symptoms of popcorn lungs are associated with the specific chemical – diacetyl. It was once used to give popcorn a buttery taste, hence the name. When the workers of a popcorn factory in Missouri were diagnosed with this disease, BO was first connected to diacetyl.

So, what is the link between vaping and BO? In 2015, one study found out that more than half of the flavored vape juices contained diacetyl. Some manufacturers really use it to reach exquisite vape flavors.

Here, the opinions were divided as follows:

  • Public health officials claim that vaping, especially when using flavored e-liquids, puts users on the risks of developing BO.
  • Vaping advocates claim that an amount of diacetyl in vape liquid is too small to provoke the disease. In fact, a smoker consumes on average 750 times more diacetyl than a vaper.

Can vaping lead to lung cancer?

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claimed that electronic cigarettes contain carcinogens and many other toxic chemicals. These included antifreeze, formaldehyde, and heavy metals.

The presence of these chemicals in the lungs can cause damage that is similar to that of smoking. The body reacts to unknown substances by triggering an inflammatory process. With time, chronic inflammation can develop into such diseases as:

  • Bronchitis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Emphysema
  • Heart Disease
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Cancer.

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego made an interesting comparative experiment. They exposed cells to e-cigarette vapor and tobacco smoke. Vapor cell exposure led to up to twice the DNA damage than in unexposed cells. In the case with smoke, the cells died after 24 hours of exposure.

These findings were challenged by some scientists. The methods were strongly criticized as the comparison was done with nonequivalent exposures for nonequivalent periods of time. The dose of vapor the cells got corresponded to the dose from vaporizing for hours, which is much longer than an average vaper spends on his habit.

Are there any cases of lung cancer directly linked to vaping?

There’re no documented vaping-related cancer diagnoses. Electronic smoking devices appeared 15 years ago. It’s not easy to find people who have never smoked and have been vaping for about a decade. Many of those who vape are either former or current smokers. The following study reports that only 15% of people who vape have never smoked cigarettes.

American researchers studied e-cigarette use among U.S. adults. It turned out that most vapers were people under 35. First long-term effects can appear after 10 years of using vape products. Moreover, most cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in people who are older than 45. Consequently, it could be tens of years before we see whether the connection between vaping and cancer really exists.

How dangerous is nicotine in the e-liquid?

Nicotine is an addictive substance. That’s why quitting smoking is such a difficult thing. Given that vaping is marketed as a tool that can help you drop smoking, it’s clear why most e-liquids have some amount of nicotine in them. A user gets a necessary dose of the chemical his or her body asks for and doesn’t suffer from withdrawal symptoms. But is this approach safe?

A 2018 animal study suggests that nicotine from vapor imposes cancer risks as it does the following:

  • damages DNA
  • limits DNA repair
  • enhances cell mutation.

However, the results may be false as the animals were exposed to a dose that was much higher than an average human vaper gets. Unfortunately, the long-term health consequences of vaping nicotine-containing liquids are not known yet.

Are there any other risks to consider?

The health consequences associated with vaping may vary and depend on the device, vape juice flavors, and habits of the user. The potential health risks include:

  • cough
  • high heart rate
  • the decrease in the lungs oxygen saturation
  • increased airway resistance
  • decreased lung capacity (also called vital capacity)
  • the development of nicotine addiction
  • exposure to harmful chemicals
  • higher likelihood of starting smoking cigarettes.

Currently, we don’t have direct and indisputable evidence that vaping increases the risk of any lung condition. But if you already live with COPD or another respiratory disease, it may worsen your symptoms.

About the author:

Frances is a blogger and she wants to become a professional writer in her future. Now she is on the way to her dream. In the field of her interests are topics of healthy lifestyle, mental and physical well-being. In her posts, she focuses on the main problems of smoking and drug & alcohol abuse to suggest the most suitable solutions.

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "Vaping and lungs health," in Medicalopedia, April 9, 2019, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/7392/vaping-and-lungs-health/].