Monday, September 3, 2012

Electronic cigarettes pose health risks

Everybody knows that smoking is bad, but it is not that easy to kick the habit if you are addicted to nicotine. Aside from quitting, some attempts focus on replacing cigarettes with an alternative, such as nicotine patches. More recently, the e-cigarette has seen some popularity: it is an electronic version of the cigarette that delivers nicotine through a vapour instead of harmful smoke. While thought to be a lot less harmful, scientists show that such e-cigarettes also pose a high risk for health problems.

Electronic smoking
An 'e-cig' looks quite similar to an ordinary cigarette and is aimed at simulating the act of smoking. It works by vaporizing a liquid solution, which means the actual 'smoke' is rather different. Basically, instead of burning tobacco, the e-cig vaporizes liquids. In addition, the electronic device includes a heating element and a battery, and can be charged through USB. They have only been on the market for a short period of time, and have since then rapidly climbed in popularity. That means there are no long-term studies available yet, but scientists from the University of Athens presented findings that are a small step in that direction.

They set up experiments including eight people who had never smoked and a total of 24 smokers. A proportion of the participants suffered from a lung disease called COPD or asthma. All of the participants were given an e-cig and asked to use it for about ten minutes. In order to measure the effect, the scientists looked at airway resistance, something that reduces airflow through the lungs. This can cause coughing and is especially a problem in patients with lung disease.

After performing their measurements, the scientists found that using the e-cig for about ten minutes already induces an increase in airway resistance. Both smokers and non-smokers had an increase in airway resistance from using the e-cig. Interestingly, or fortunately, the patients suffering from COPD or asthma had no immediate increase in airway resistance after using the electronic cigarette. Why such patients are seemingly unaffected is unknown.

The Greek study warrants a follow-up to assess whether using the e-cig can actually lead to significant health problems. While increased airway resistance is not quite beneficial, it is not a real clinical outcome. Additionally, the researchers looked at the (very) short-term effects of electronic smoking, which means nothing can be said about its long-term effects. Nevertheless, it is an interesting study that needs to be expanded on.


  1. . I have completely stopped using my albuterol and advair inhalers since I have been on the electronic cigarette. I have no more asthma symptoms and the asthma actually seems to have actually completely disappeared.

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