Vaping Health Risks May Not Be Apparent for Decades Without More Research: Study

The growing understanding of vaping health risks mirrors how health experts slowly grew to understand the threat of smoking traditional cigarettes, researchers warn

As more teens and young adults have begun vaping in recent years, leading to some of the largest increases in new nicotine users in generations, the debate continues to rage about whether vaping is actually a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes, or a harmful habit that carries its own serious health risks.

A new clinical review of research highlights the side effects of e-cigarettes and warns that society may not see the serious vaping health risks for decades. The findings were published July 18, in the journal The BMJ.

While initially promoted as a safer alternative for smokers looking to quit using tobacco cigarettes, over the past decade a number of companies have introduced products, which were aggressively marketed on social media or sold in appealing candy-like flavors, leading to a major shift in how Americans consume nicotine.

JUUL and other e-cigarettes have become the most popular form of tobacco use among youths. One-in-five high schoolers vape, with many falsely believing the products are safer or less addictive. However, lawsuits filed against the makers of JUUL allege that the company intentionally formulated its products to be just as addictive as Marlboro cigarettes, leading to life-long users of their e-cigarettes.

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Researchers from Stanford University conducted a review of studies focusing on the effects of e-cigarette use, warning that the harms posed by e-cigarettes may not be fully realized for decades, similar to when tobacco cigarettes gained popularity in the U.S. market.

“Discussions regarding the potential harms of vaping are reminiscent of scientific debates about the health effects of cigarette use in the 1940s,” the researchers wrote.

The recent e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak highlighted the new risks that vaping may pose for users. The EVALI outbreak led to more than 50 deaths and more than 2,800 confirmed cases of the condition. Investigators determined vitamin-e acetate additives in the liquid and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products were the cause of severe respiratory side effects.

Most patients who suffered from EVALI also suffered long-term damage to their lungs as well as suffering anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other research focusing on e-cigarette use has highlighted a link to upper respiratory problems including bronchitis and asthma, and increased risk of blood clots, much like was seen as a side effect of traditional cigarette use.

Additionally, vaping may cause lung damage in one-third of users and can lead to cancer-like changes in human DNA, as well as damage to the cells in the mouth, leading to oral cancer.

Researchers of the new study emphasize these side effects were seen with traditional tobacco cigarettes, but the true toll to human health leading to cancer and death was not seen for decades. This may be the same case with e-cigarettes.

Furthermore, several studies have found that teens who use e-cigarettes are also more likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes later. This may also increase their risk of suffering serious health side effects.

After years of concerns regarding the long-term effects of vaping, the FDA announced a JUUL recall last month, after determining that there was no safe way to sell the products. While there is currently a stay on the JUUL ban while the manufacturer appeals the decision, this mayy make it harder for teens to vape one of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes.

“This review summarizes the history and epidemiology of vaping and the clinical manifestations of vaping related lung injury, including the EVALI outbreak, as well as the effects of chronic vaping on respiratory health and covid-19 outcomes,” the researchers determined. “We conclude that vaping is not without risk, and that further investigation is required to establish clear public policy guidance and regulation.”

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