More And More Evidence That E-Cigarettes Are Harmful

More than a dozen teens and young adults have been very sick, and e-cigarettes have been implicated.

Photo by Rist Art on Unsplash

More than a dozen teenagers and young adults have become severely sick with respiratory ailments — requiring, at times, a ventilator — in Wisconsin and Illinois, and e-cigarettes are the prime suspect:

Fourteen teens and young adults have been hospitalized in Wisconsin and Illinois for breathing problems potentially linked to vaping, health officials in both states announced Friday.

In Wisconsin, severe lung disease has sent 11 people to the hospital, according to the state’s Department of Health Services. That’s three more than the eight cases the state reported in late July.

And in Illinois, three young people have been hospitalized for severe breathing problems after vaping, the state Department of Public Health announced Friday. “The names and types of vaping products, as well as where they were obtained, are still being investigated,” the department said.

According to CNN, these young people were otherwise healthy, and all tests pointing to another cause of the lung ailments came back negative:

Thomas Haupt, a respiratory disease epidemiologist with Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, said Friday that his state’s cases were among young people, “otherwise normally healthy, and they were coming in with severe respiratory illnesses, and in some cases, they actually had to go to the intensive care unit and were placed on ventilators.”

The lung disease looked like it was caused by an infection, “but every test has come back completely negative,” Haupt told CNN. Regarding any links between the cases, “the only thing at this point is vaping, but we don’t know what they vaped, where they got their vaping liquids, all this needs to be determined at this point.”

Chuck Warzecha, a deputy administrator at Wisconsin’s health department, said that “all of them were hospitalized with shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain. Some even needed assistance to breathe.” While the patients are “generally improving,” it is unclear what long-term effects they might face, he said.

This is quite alarming, especially since the perception among many about e-cigarettes is that, especially without nicotine, they are completely safe to inhale. Experts, however, beg to differ.

The American Lung Association raised great concern about the effects of e-cigarettes on the lungs:

In January 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus study report that reviewed over 800 different studies.

That report made clear: using e-cigarettes causes health risks. It concluded that e-cigarettes both contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances. The Academies’ report also states there is moderate evidence that youth who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk for cough and wheezing and an increase in asthma exacerbations.

In that National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report, there was alarming, substantial evidence of many toxic substances in the vapor of e-cigarettes, including metals, formaldehyde, and acrolein. These substances can cause DNA damage and mutagenesis which, in the words of the report:

supports the biological plausibility that long-term exposure to e-cigarette aerosols could increase risk of cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes. Whether or not the levels of exposure are high enough to contribute to human carcinogenesis remains to be determined.

These respiratory ailments are potentially life-threatening, and it raises great alarm to me as a Pulmonary and Critical Care specialist. Like I said before, the lungs were designed to handle air — clean, pure air — and they were never meant to process smoke, nicotine, and other potentially harmful substances in cigarettes, both the conventional and electronic variety.

Yes, e-cigarettes have been shown to help smokers quit. And, as a lung doctor, if I had to choose between a patient smoking a traditional cigarette or an e-cigarette, I would definitely choose the latter. But that is only for those patients of mine who are already addicted to tobacco. If anyone does not already smoke, I would NEVER advocate or agree with starting e-cigarettes. Clearly, they are not good for you or your lungs, and more and more and more evidence is pointing to their great harm.

Follow me on Twitter: @HAHassaballaMD.

The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or the organizations with which I am affiliated.

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.

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