Electronic cigarettes, seen by many as a healthy alternative to tobacco smoking, can be harmful to the lungs, scientists from the University of Athens, Greece, explained at the European Respiratory Society’s Annual Congress 2012, Vienna, on Sunday 9 June 2012.
Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, have commonly been marketed as effective smoking cessation devices. However, doctors are currently bitterly divided as to whether cigarettes are giving tobacco companies the means to appear benign while actually “killing people softly” or are a genuine alternative offering the best chance of reducing harm from cigarette smoking.
In this particular study, Professor Christina Gratziou and team set out to determine what the short-term effects of smoking with e-cigarettes might be on different individuals, including those with no known health problems, as well as existing smokers with and without lung conditions.
They carried out experiments on 32 volunteers; of whom 8 were lifetime non-smokers and 24 were current regular smokers. Some of them had healthy lungs, while others lived with asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
They were asked to use an electronic cigarette for 10 minutes, inhaling the vapors into their lungs. A spirometry test, as well as some others diagnostic procedures were used to measure their airway resistance. Airway resistance is used in respiratory physiology to measure the resistance of the respiratory tract to airflow coming in during inspiration (inhalation) and going out during expiration (exhalation).
They found that using an e-cigarette caused an instant increase in airway resistance that lasted for 10 minutes in the majority of the participants. Below are some of their key findings:
- Non-smokers – even among lifetimes non-smokers, using an e-cigarette for ten minutes raised their airway resistance to 206% from 182% (mean average); the researchers described this as a “significant increase”.
- Current regular smokers – among existing regular smokers, the spirometry tests revealed a significant rise in airway resistance to 220%, from 176% after using one e-cigarette for ten minutes.
- COPD and Asthma patients experienced no significant increase in airway resistance from using one e-cigarette for ten minutes.
In a separate study, researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York, reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (February 2013 issue) that a growing number of people are using e-cigarettes to either stop smoking or cut down on their tobacco-cigarette consumption.
The medical profession and scientists generally agree that e-cigarettes, if they do pose any dangers to health, are much less harmful than tobacco smoking.
Professor Christina Gratziou, who is Chair of the European Respiratory Society Tobacco Control Committee, said:
“We do not yet know whether unapproved nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, are safer than normal cigarettes, despite marketing claims that they are less harmful. This research helps us to understand how these products could be potentially harmful.
“We found an immediate rise in airway resistance in our group of participants, which suggests e-cigarettes can cause immediate harm after smoking the device. More research is needed to understand whether this harm also has lasting effects in the long-term […] The ERS recommends following effective smoking cessation treatment guidelines based on clinical evidence which do not advocate the use of such products.”
Electronic cigarettes, also known as vaporizer cigarettes and e-cigarettes, are devices that people use, often instead of tobacco cigarettes, that release doses of water vapor that may or may not include nicotine. E-cigarettes are powered by a small battery.
Manufacturers, distributors and marketers of electronic cigarettes say that they are an effective and healthier alternative to tobacco smoking, because the user does not inhale harmful tobacco smoke, which contains over 4,000 toxic chemicals.
Regular e-cigarette users say that the device offers them a similar sensation to tobacco-cigarette smoking. However, as there is no combustion involved – there is no smoke.
Electronic cigarettes are long tube-like devices that either look like tobacco cigarettes or biros (ballpoint pens). Most of them have replaceable cartridges; some are throwaway ones.
The user places the device between his lips and sucks in, this action activates a heating element that immediately vaporizes a liquid solution. The vapor is inhaled. Learning how to use an e-cigarettes, especially for a regular tobacco-smoker, is straightforward because the action is virtually identical to what is done when you smoke a tobacco cigarette.
A typical electronic cigarette has the following components:
- The mouthpiece – the replaceable cartridge is placed here. The user sucks or inhales from the mouthpiece.
- The atomizer – a heating element which vaporizes the liquid solution. The vapors are inhaled. In most devices, the atomizer needs to be replaced every three to six months.
- The battery – this is usually a rechargeable lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The battery is the power-source for the heating element. There is also some electronic circuitry in the device, such as the airflow sensor, a timed cutoff switch to prevent overheating, and a colored LED (light emitting diode) to indicate the device has been activated.
Electronic cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular, especially in Western Europe. It is estimated that many tens of millions of people worldwide are regular users.
A report published by the CDC and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products revealed that the use of electronic cigarettes tripled among middle and high school students between 2013 and 2014.
E-cigs are as effective as nicotine patches in helping tobacco smokers quit, a study carried out at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found.