Health

Vaping increases risk of lung disease by a third, U.S. study suggests

Using e-cigarettes significantly increases the risk of respiratory disease such as asthma and emphysema, a U.S. study suggests in one of the first studies to show these potential long-term harms.

Risk even higher among adults who used e-cigarettes and smoked tobacco

U.S. researchers looked at the risks over time to the lungs from smoking, vaping and using both products. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Using e-cigarettes significantly increases the risk of developing chronic lung conditions such as asthma and emphysema, U.S. researchers say. 

The study, published Monday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is among the first to show the potential long-term harms of using e-cigarettes, which are often promoted as a safer alternative to tobacco and a means of helping smokers quit.

It found e-cigarettes increased the risk of lung disease by one-third compared with people who never smoked or vaped. And the risk was even higher among adults who used e-cigarettes and smoked tobacco.

The research comes as the United States faces a youth vaping crisis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control  (CDC), more than 27.5 per cent of high school students in the United States use e-cigarettes, up from 20.7 per cent in 2018.

"E-cigarettes are promoted as harmless, and they're not," Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said in a phone interview.

Glantz and colleagues used data on 32,000 adults surveyed in the CDC's Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH), which tracked e-cigarette and tobacco habits, as well as new lung disease diagnoses from 2013 to 2016.

Nobody involved had lung disease at the start of the study. Three years later, researchers found people who used e-cigarettes had roughly a 30 per cent increased risk of developing a combination of an umbrella lung disease, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) compared with those who never smoked or vaped. 

'Turns out you're worse off'

Those who smoked cigarettes had roughly double the risk of chronic lung disease compared to whose who never smoked. For those who smoked traditional and e-cigarettes, the risk more than tripled, the study found.

"Everybody, including me, used to think e-cigarettes are like cigarettes but not as bad. If you substitute a few e-cigarettes for cigarettes, you're probably better off," Glantz said. "It turns out you're worse off," he said. "E-cigarettes pose unique risks in terms of lung disease."

In the study, the researchers acknowledged that they did not distinguish between daily and non-daily use of the products.

The lung diseases reported in the latest study are not related to EVALI or "e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury" that health officials in the U.S. say has led to 2,409 hospitalized cases and 52 deaths. 

Prior studies have only looked at a cross-section of the population at a fixed time.

The new study is considered more robust because it looks at risks to the lungs over time, Robert Tarran, a physiologist and vaping expert at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said in an email.

"This study adds to the growing body of evidence that demonstrate that vaping is not safe," Tarran said.

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