E Cig Studies: Harmful or a Breath of Fresh Air?

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A recent study published in Toxicology in Vitro suggests that vaping with an e-cigarette has the same cytotoxic impact on your lungs as breathing. The report is yet another indicator that e-cigs are a much safer alternative to traditional smoking.

Study Shows E-cigs Have the Same Effect on Lung Cells as Air

Researchers from British American Tobacco and MatTek Corporation collaborated to design new test procedures that can adequately measure the effects of vaping on living airway tissue. Using 3D modeling and epithelial cell cultures, the scientists were able to grow cell tissue identical to what is found in the human respiratory tract. They then placed the cell tissue in a VITROCELL system, which is a robot that can “inhale” and is commonly used in safety studies for traditional cigarettes.

For six hours, fresh tissue was exposed via VITROCELL to traditional cigarette smoke, e-cig vapor and compressed air (as a control). After the six hours, cells that had been exposed to cigarette smoke were mostly dead. Meanwhile, those exposed to e-cig vapor remained as healthy and viable as the cells that received only air.

BAT Research and Development spokesperson Marina Trani lamented the lack of standards for in-vitro testing of e-cig vapor, but she optimistically told reporters that, “Our protocol could prove very useful in helping the process by which these guidelines might progress.”

The researchers only tested two types of e-liquid, so we can’t yet extrapolate their findings across the market; however, similar studies support the theory that vaping is considerably less harmful to lung cells than smoking.

Study: Potentially Harmful Constituents in E-Cigs Comparable to Those Found in Air

A 2014 study found in the journal of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology examines the harmful and potentially harmful constituents, or HPHCs, in vaporized e-liquid compared to those in traditional tobacco smoke. Echoing the conclusions of the BAT study, the authors assert, “The deliveries of HPHCs tested for in these e-cigarette products were similar to the study air blanks rather than to deliveries from conventional cigarettes.” In other words, e-cig vapor has more in common with the air we breathe than tobacco smoke.

Researchers, from the Lorillard Tobacco Company, used a machine to produce smoke and vapor before analyzing the contents of each. They looked for 55 HPHCs including carbon monoxide, phenolics, volatiles, metals and polyaromatic amines. The test subjects included three products made by blu eCigs and two from SKYCIG. Marlboro Gold Box and Lambert & Butler tobacco cigarettes were chosen for comparison. Unsurprisingly, the tobacco smoke contained 1,500 times more HPHCs per puff than the e-cig vapor.

The primary byproducts of vaping were water, glycerin, propylene glycol and nicotine. Only five of the measured HPHCs were detected in e-cig vapor in trace amounts: phenol, N-nitrosoanatabine, acrolein, acetaldehyde and propionaldehyde. These five chemicals were also present in tobacco smoke, but they were at levels up to 900 times greater than what was detected in e-cig vapor. Once again, it would appear that the exposure potentially harmful constituents, associated with inhaling e-cig vapor, are considerably less than when compared to the hazards of smoking.

The authors caution that their small sample size means more research is necessary; nonetheless, they feel confident that future studies will find similar results. The researchers call for better transparency in listing e-liquid ingredients, standardization of manufacturing processes within the e-cig industry and standardization of research methodology for analyzing the effects of vaping. While we await more scientific evidence, take a deep breath of reassurance knowing that the air you’re breathing is essentially the same as e-cig vapor.