E-cigarettes give the impression of being safer than regular cigarettes, but that could be just because we’ve had less time to study the different ways they could kill us. New research presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggests vaping could harm the immune response of the respiratory system in the same ways that cigs do, and in other ways, too.
Ilona Jaspers, a researcher with University of North Carolina School of Medicine, presented findings that relate particularly to the flavoring chemicals in some e-cigarette liquids. While these compounds have been “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that doesn’t mean they’re safe to inhale.
“The digestive systems and respiratory systems are very different,” Jaspers said in a statement. “Our stomachs are full of acids and enzymes that break down food and deal with chemicals; this environment is very different than our respiratory systems. We simply don’t know what effects, if any, e-cigarettes have on our lungs.”
Well, we didn’t know until now. Jaspers studied tissue from inside the nasal cavity of smokers, vapers, and non-smokers, and looked at how their immunity genes were affected. E-cigarette use affected all of the same genes as cigarette use, and then some.
“We found that cinnamaldehyde e-liquids have a significant negative effect on epithelial cell physiology,” Jaspers said. “The chemicals compromise the immune function of key respiratory immune cells, such as macrophages, natural killer cells, and neutrophils.” What that means is that e-cigarette use could put vapers as risk of lung diseases in a similar way to regular cigarettes.
A separate study, also presented this week at the AAAS conference, showed that exposure to e-cigarette vapor in pregnant mice caused lower sperm counts, altered brain activity, and strange behavior in offspring. These effects were even more pronounced when the mice were exposed to nicotine-free vape.