By Lilly Bertone
In 1969 Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which rolled out mandatory warnings to be printed on all cigarette packaging to inform the public that smoking cigarettes was dangerous. Since then, more studies have come out proving the dangers smoking can cause, especially in regards to respiratory health. Tobacco companies have been working on a new way to attract customers without alluding to the dangers of their products. Enter the electronic cigarette; a sleek and discreet alternative to the stinky, scary original. Consumers enjoyed the e-cigarettes because not only could they get their nicotine fix with an array of flavors and potency, but it was even marketed as a safe way to lessen smoking habits. This raised the question of whether it was actually a safe alternative. Data collected from the national study Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) was used to determine if there was any association of using e-cigarettes with respiratory disease.
Photo from truthinitiative.org
What sets e-cigarettes apart from the regular kind is it’s mechanics and added ingredients. Users heat a liquid that contains not only nicotine but added ingredients like propylene glycol, glycerine and metals. The aerosol created is then inhaled and processed through the respiratory system.
In animal studies, repeated exposure to those heated ingredients caused chronic pulmonary inflammation, immune system damage and COPD. It is not surprising that people who had used e-cigarettes expressed immune suppression in the nasal mucosa, resulting in weakened immune systems and a particular susceptibility to respiratory diseases like chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. When the immune system is weakened, it can cause a domino effect of negative conditions. This is in alignment with existing literature that shows an increased risk of respiratory disease is associated with other ailments like hypertension and diabetes.
People who choose to smoke tobacco in other ways like hookah or cigar were still exposed to nicotine, but not as many harmful additional chemicals like those found in regular or electronic cigarettes. Many people began using e-cigarettes in combination with regular cigarettes to try to cut back all around use. Unfortunately, biomarkers showed higher nicotine and toxicant exposure with dual users than those who used just one method.
While this study focused on the effects of e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, the same warnings should be observed by those who are using cannabis e-cigarettes or “vape-pens”. The cartridges containing cannabis may also contain dangerous ingredients like propylene glycol and metals. Just last week, the CDC released a notice that Vitamin E Acetate was linked to a multi-state outbreak of respiratory diseases in users of both nicotine and cannabis vaporizers, so it is important to always check the labels of anything you are inhaling or ingesting.