Research Claims that Electronic Cigarettes May Cause Asthma and Emphysema

A study carried out by a team of medical researchers at the Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York and presented during the 2014 European Respiratory Society congress in Germany, suggested that e-cigarettes could lead to respiratory conditions such as asthma and emphysema. During the congress, which is the largest event in its category, the research was presented under the title ” E-cigarette exposure induces pathological responses that result in lung tissue destruction and airway hyper reactivity in mice”. To carry out the study, several groups of mice were exposed to nebulized PBS (phosphate buffered saline), an equal parts combination of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, e-cigarette liquid containing 18 mg/ml nicotine in 50%PG/50%VG,, or e-cigarette liquid containing 36 mg/ml in 50%PG/50%VG. The rodents were exposed to these substances for one hour a day, 5 days a week during 4 months.

After examination, it was found that the mice that were exposed to e-cigarette vapor with nicotine, presented an increase in lung cytokine and protease expression, as well as mucin staining in the airways and other conditions that affected their respiratory system. The vehicle (50% VG and 50%PG) didn’t have any effect, but according to the results of the study, e-cigarettes caused emphysema and airway hyperreactivity. The abstract was published on the official website  of the ERS and came to the conclusion that the study showed for the first time that e-cigarette exposure could lead to asthma and emphysema.

Back in 2014, when the study was originally presented, the information about it was scarce. While the conclusion raised concerns among e-cigarette users, the truth is that there was a lack of further details about how the research was carried. The research contradicted the findings of previous studies that found improvement on the symptoms and lung functions of people who replaced traditional tobacco cigarettes with electronic cigarettes. Even after the study, new research has also suggested that e-cigarettes could improve the general health of smokers who opted for them as an alternative to analogue cigarettes.

In fact, a recent study conducted by a team lead by Professor Ricardo Polosa at the University of Catania, Italy,  concluded that electronic cigarettes could be an effective aid for asthmatic smokers who want to quit and that these devices can also help to reverse the harm of subjective and objective asthma outcomes. The study focused on the changed in the health condition and respiratory function of 18 smokers with mild to moderate asthma, whi switched to electronic cigarettes. The study compared the condition of the group, before switching to e-cigarettes with the results obtained at follow-up visits at 6, 12 and 24 months.

Many health experts have referred to the potential of electronic cigarettes to save lives, but the European Respiratory Society has followed the approach of the World Health Organization, and stated that it has concerns about the use of e-cigarettes. While they recognized that e-cigarettes seem less harmful to health than tobacco cigarettes, in an official statement, the organization said that since the long-term effect of electronic cigarettes is not well documented at this time, “ERS believes that the precautionary principle should be applied when scientific evidence is inconclusive”. In the meantime, the devastating effects of tobacco are widely recognized and for many, e-cigarettes represent an alternative that could prevent many of the millions of deaths caused by tobacco cigarettes each year.