Years ago, the tobacco industry was revolutionized with the launch of the lowly electronic cigarette. Though it took time to catch on, e-cigs have seen explosive growth in popularity, many heralding them as the solution to many of combustion cigarettes’ biggest problems. What was once championed as “basically harmless” has since been the subject of many studies, though, and yet another one finds that vaping comes with its own potential issues.
In a perfect world, e-cigarettes would be a mere stepping stone toward the total eradication of tobacco smoking (and nicotine vaporizing). Though they’re not explicitly sold as a smoking cessation device in most cases, many smokers have reported finally being able to kick the habit after replacing tobacco cigarettes with liquid-based e-cigarettes…ultimately kicking the e-cig habit, too.
Vaping, though, has grown into a full hobby for many; a quick look at any e-cig forum or subreddit makes this very clear. Entire websites are dedicated to the DIY construction of e-cig batteries; entire Instagram accounts are dedicated to videos of people blowing huge, billowing clouds of “smoke.”
In many forums, conversations about the health effects of vaping go something like this: “It’s a lot healthier than cigarettes, just be careful of which flavors you choose, be mindful about your wicks, and you’ll probably be fine.” Some respond with hostility, fearing any acknowledgement of ill health effects will lead to their favorite vice being banned. And while a minority acknowledge that it would be healthier to not vape at all, a minority on the opposite end of that spectrum claims vaping is harmless.
The reality, though, lies somewhere between “combustion cigarettes” and “totally harmless.” If a choice has to be made between smoking and vaping, some signs point toward vaping being less harmful (though that isn’t a guarantee). The liquid used in e-cigarettes — concerns about popcorn lung aside — doesn’t contain the rainbow of cancer-causing substances found in tobacco cigarettes and there’s no tar.
With that said, e-cigarettes are not harmless — they’re merely the substitution of a very harmful thing for, at best, a less harmful thing. The industry is still in its infancy and the long-term health effects of vaping, particularly with high-power rigs that create massive quantities of smoke, aren’t clear yet.
A study newly published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) offer us a glimpse of those potential long-term consequences. “We found that ECS [e-cig smoke] induces damages in mouse lung, bladder, and heart,” the researchers explain, “and reduces DNA-repair functions and proteins in the lung … We propose that ECS, through damaging DNA and inhibiting DNA repair, might contribute to human lung and bladder cancer as well as to heart disease…”
The study explains that e-cig “smoke” is carcinogenic to rodent bladders and lungs, and also has negative effects on their hearts. These findings are the result of subjecting mice to the equivalent of 10 years of light e-cig smoking, raising concerns about the potential long-term health effects of vaping in humans.
It’s important to note that this is a preliminary study and that additional research needs to be done. The study also raises some questions, namely how extensively of a role nicotine plays in the health equation. Some vaping aficionados, having picked up vaping as a hobby without having ever smoked, choose to exclusively vape nicotine-free liquids. Whether those individuals face the same potential health consequences as those who smoke nicotine liquids is unclear.