Vaping May Reverse Lung Damage Caused By Smoking
There’s little argument that smoking causes lung damage. However, Vapers report feeling noticeably better after quitting, and early studies appear to support their health claims. Switching to e-cigarettes exclusively may help reverse lung damage from tobacco.
A 2015 report from a University of Catania professor, Riccardo Polosa, focuses on this topic. Though optimistic about early results, Polosa states repeatedly that long-term studies are necessary in order to form real conclusions.
Researchers haven’t yet had the opportunity to study e-cig users’ health over several years, making long-term effects unknown. Laboratory tests on lung tissue can be useful, but lab tests aren’t the same as actual use. Also, since there are no set testing standards to-date, results vary widely. Some report little toxicity while others viewing the same samples report high levels.
Most studies point to mild respiratory irritation in new e-cigarette users, which matches general user reports. Symptoms, including cough or sore throat, could come from sensitivities to propylene glycol or possible vapor contaminants. At this point, there’s no way to know whether these mild irritations could become serious problems. For now, the risk seems low.
Meanwhile, people who switch entirely to e-cigs have far fewer tobacco carcinogens and other toxic substances in urine tests than people who smoke. This fact alone indicates likely health benefits, but lung-function tests have shown mixed results.
Perhaps the most encouraging news is that toxic levels of exhaled carbon monoxide reduce to near normal with e-cig use. The slight decrease in exhaled nitric oxide — a free radical that indicates lung inflammation — was too small to be clinically significant as was the slight increase in airflow obstruction. Still, the absence of notable effects with short-term e-cig use appears hopeful.
Note: One study determined that e-cigarettes were only 4 percent as harmful to users as tobacco.
Polosa’s university currently studies changes in “subclinical injury” in smokers with no diagnosis of lung disease as well as changes in those who do have lung conditions. Their early findings support improvements in both populations with e-cigarette use.
A one-year study showed significant improvement in respiratory obstruction, measured in peripheral airways, after only three months. Improvements continued progressively through the full year in those who totally quit cigarettes. These early results suggest that smokers who suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) would benefit from switching to e-cigs.
The only clinical study so far on asthma and e-cigarettes revealed considerable improvement in lung function over cigarette use; additionally, e-vapor did not cause asthma attacks. So far, there are only a few case reports of regular smokers with COPD who switched to e-cigs exclusively; they reported fewer incidents of disease-related aggravations and greatly improved quality of life.
A worldwide Internet survey of smokers with asthma or COPD who now use e-cigs also showed substantial gains. Roughly 65 percent of asthmatics and 76 percent of COPD sufferers using e-cigs exclusively said their symptoms were better, and just over 18 percent were able to stop their medications. Fewer of those who continued to use cigarettes with e-cigs experienced improved symptoms. Only 1.1 percent of people with asthma and 0.8 percent with COPD reported worse symptoms.
Again, while long-term studies are clearly needed, it seems reasonable to consider this early evidence of improved lung health when developing e-cig regulations.