Researchers find 'unambiguous and concerning' vape risk in nonsmokers

A new study from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) Health Science division has found what researchers call "clear, unambiguous and concerning" health risks associated with vaping. This particular study focused on young, healthy individuals who didn't have a history of smoking cigarettes, finding cellular changes that increase disease risk.

Vaping has become a contentious societal issue, with some arguing that it is a public health improvement as it helps tobacco smokers gravitate to a less harmful alternative. Others, however, express concerns about the number of vapers who didn't previously smoke cigarettes, potentially leading to a new generation of nicotine addicts.

A growing body of evidence has indicated that vaping is a less harmful, more ideal alternative to cigarettes for those who are currently smokers. However, studies have similarly found potential health issues associated with vaping, including inflammation, that underscores the fact it isn't a benign, healthy alternative to cigarettes.

The new study from UCLA involved 32 healthy adults ages 21 to 33, including 11 nonsmokers, nine people who regularly smoked tobacco cigarettes, and 12 people who regularly vaped. Researchers collected immune cells from all of the participants both before and after they spent 30 minutes vaping.

The before-and-after immune cells were contrasted to look for oxidative stress, which is when there are more free radicals that damage cells than antioxidants that deal with the free radicals. The findings were compared to a control group of participants who simply 'vaped' with an empty straw.

When it came to nonsmokers, those who vaped for 30 minutes were found to have between two and four times higher oxidative stress levels compared to before they vaped. Neither the vaping nor smoking participants showed the same increase in oxidative stress after the 30-minute vaping session, which the researchers say is likely because they already had a high baseline level due to their respective habits.

Additional research is necessary to determine whether it is nicotine or some other substance found in the vapor that causes oxidative stress. However, the researchers emphasize the fact that such oxidative stress was observed after a single vaping session and that this could greatly increase disease risk over time.