Having been linked to everything from high blood pressure to cancer, it can safely be said that here are few products with a worse reputation than cigarettes. In recent years, many consumers have turned to electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, believing them to be a safer alternative. New research indicates, however, that such cigarettes may likewise be harmful to respiratory health.
E-Cigarettes in a Nutshell
Some e-cigarettes brands bear a strong resemblance to their conventional counterparts. For starters, they have a cylindrical shape, and often feature the same white/light brown color scheme. Other brands might have black, gray or red colors, giving them a sort of pen-like appearance. In lieu of tobacco, these products contain liquid nicotine, which is morphed into vapor by a part known as an atomizer. This vapor is inhaled and then exhaled by the user.
So are smokers correct in thinking that that e-cigarettes represent a healthier option for nicotine intake? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the answer to that question has yet to be determined. However, the CDC does point out that people exposed to nicotine at a young age could be later become nicotine addicts, and may also suffer from disrupted brain development.
Bad for the Lungs?
The issue of e-cigarettes has recently drawn the attention of researchers from the University of Hong Kong. This group found that young e-cigarette users might be more prone to developing respiratory problems. Their study on the matter appeared in the January 2016 issue of the journal PLOS One.
The team based their conclusion on data submitted by Hong Kong schoolchildren. The average age of these 45,000 students was 15, and the information reviewed by the study was gathered between the years 2012 and 2013.
In all, the authors found that nearly one in five students encountered respiratory problems. This may explain why e-cigarettes weren’t especially popular among their subjects, as only 1.1% admitted to using them during the prior 30 day period. Compared to subjects who avoided such devices, electronic cigarette smokers had a 30%greater risk of developing respiratory issues.
Interestingly enough, the research team noted that the e-cigarettes were most harmful to students with no history of using any type of cigarette; breathing issues were more than twice as likely to afflict this subset of children than students who shunned electronic cigarettes. Respiratory symptoms likewise posed an elevated threat to e-cigarette users who had previously smoked traditional cigarettes, to the tune of 40%.
Though the report does suggest that e-cigarettes could be dangerous, the authors cautioned that their work does not conclusively link e-cigarettes to less than optimal respiratory health. Regardless, they contend that the study offers a compelling reason for the regulation of such devices. The team also stressed that the stigma attached to cigarette use must not be allowed to wane.
Dr. Daniel Ho, one of the study’s authors, stated that the possible benefits of e-cigarettes “does not seem to justify the potential harm of re-normalizing cigarette smoking, delaying smoking cessation, and escalating to real cigarette smoking, especially among the majority non-smoking young people.”