The potential dangers of smoking have been widely publicized for decades, so much so that virtually everyone who chooses to smoke is almost certainly at least somewhat aware of what can happen as a result. The rise of vaping and e-cigarettes as alternatives to traditional cigarettes, though, has led to a variety of misconceptions about how dangerous they can be. Make no mistake, e-cigarette use causes nicotine addiction and can lead to serious lung injuries. Using electronic cigarettes, or vaping, could elevate the risk of chronic lung diseases, according to results from the first study on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, published in the February 2020 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. While liquids containing THC – the main psychoactive component in marijuana – were connected to EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) in 2019, a wide range of lung injuries have been seen from e-cigarettes in general, according to Blount Memorial board-certified pulmonologist Dr. Robert Jones.
“Although the largest outbreak of EVALI was found to be strongly linked to vitamin E acetate, which is an additive in some THC-containing vaping products, other vaporized chemicals can lead to lung injury. The flavoring additive diacetyl – an ingredient used in antifreeze – is a known respiratory toxin, and nicotine alone, when vaporized, activates the lungs’ immune system,” Jones said.
E-cigarettes use a battery-powered device to heat a liquid, forming a vapor that users breathe into their lungs. The liquid typically contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals, and the vapor is a mix of small particles. Vaping isn’t new – the first commercially successful e-cigarette was created in 2003 – but the 2015 introduction of the Juul e-cigarette sparked widespread use in the United States, particularly among teens. As vaping has increased in popularity, so have the incidences of EVALI and other e-cigarette-related respiratory conditions Jones has seen in his practice.
“The vaping-related lung injury typically will present with shortness of breath, fever, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, headache and chest discomfort,” Jones said, adding that EVALI can be difficult to distinguish from an infectious cause. “There has been a wide range of severity from mild to serious life-ending respiratory failure. We have had hospitalized patients with vaping-associated acute lung disease and have seen it also cause ongoing exacerbation in our patients with chronic lung disease,” he added.
Based on all the proven health risks related to vaping, Jones stresses that e-cigarettes should not be considered a safe alternative to cigarette smoking or as a tool for smoking cessation. For those trying to quit smoking, Jones suggests safer forms of nicotine delivery, such as patches, gum and lozenges. Jones’ strongest warning, however, is for young people, who often don’t view vaping as harmful.
“I don't have a day go by that a patient doesn't tell me they wished the dangers of smoking were known when they were young,” Jones said. “Today, we have an epidemic of youth smoking, but in the form of vaping. Up to 25 percent of high school seniors report vaping. My concern is not just for the acute lung injury but for what the long-term results will look like for youth who are getting addicted to nicotine,” Jones explained.
To make an appointment with Dr. Jones, call Blount Memorial Physicians Group — Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine at 865-980-5100.