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Data suggest e-cigarette phenomena can be hazardous to your health

Published on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

By: Karen Bascom

If you have somehow managed to avoid news related to electronic cigarettes and vaping for the past month, your run of good fortune has ended.

Portrait of Thomas Payne

Dr. Thomas Payne, professor of otolaryngology and communicative sciences and director of the ACT Center for Tobacco Treatment, Education and Research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center answered some common questions about vaping and e-cigarettes.

How many people vape?

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that about 1 in 9 12th-graders vape near daily. A quarter have vaped in the past month, a proportion that has more than doubled since 2017. Last year, researchers reported that about 1 in 20 U.S. adults use e-cigarettes.

How do e-cigarettes work?

E-cigarettes work by heating liquids, called e-liquid, that serve as a vehicle to deliver nicotine and flavors to the user.

What’s in e-liquid?

There are about 7,000 unique flavors of e-liquid on the market, each with its own unique chemical composition. Beside nicotine and flavorings, many contain propylene glycol and glycerol, which are FDA-approved, but there’s a catch.

Once you heat these compounds, they change, and those byproducts are not FDA approved for human consumption. They produce volatile organic compounds, including various aldehydes like formaldehyde and acrolein, which we know from other research increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. And when you heat these flavors, their chemistry changes as well.

I doubt scientists have studied more than 30 of them at this point.

So, vaping can make me sick? Can it kill me?

Possibly. The Mississippi State Department of Health has reported five cases of vaping-related lung illness and one death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 500 hospitalizations and eight deaths nationwide.

Some of the “most damning evidence” against e-cigarette use to date comes from a University of California San Francisco study of 70,000 people. Researchers there showed that daily e-cigarette use was associated with a doubled risk of heart attack compared to non-users. People who used both traditional and e-cigarettes saw their risk increase five-fold.

What kinds of research are being done right now on vaping?

Researchers at UMMC are part of the American Heart Association Tobacco Research and Addiction Center, or A-TRAC. Refunded by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration in 2018, the group is studying the perceptions and attitudes surrounding vaping, the chemicals in vaping products and the cardiovascular disease risks they pose.

If we understand the effects of these devices and their use, we can begin to curtail their use through changes in regulatory policy.

Can we regulate vaping like we do cigarettes?

Until 2016, the Food and Drug Administration had no regulatory authority over the components of electronic cigarettes and related devices, and products introduced to the market prior to then are not subject to the same regulations.

Some states are already setting their own policies. Michigan, New York and Massachusetts have limited sales of e-cigarettes products in various ways in the past month.

Michigan’s decision to ban the sale of flavored vaping products should be a federal law. In 2010, the United States passed a law banning flavored cigarettes, except for menthol. This contributed to the youth cigarette smoking prevalence.

Can vaping help me quit smoking?

Unlikely. Clinical trials and observational studies of smoking cessation using the products show that using e-cigarettes is about as successful as a cold-turkey approach. The most successful interventions include working with a trained counselor and the use of an approved pharmacotherapy, such as nicotine patches and gums, or Zyban and Chantix, two prescription drugs on the market indicated for smoking cessation.

For help in quitting tobacco products, call the ACT Center at (601) 815-1180 for more information.

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.