Don’t Assume E-Cigarettes Are Safe: What You Need to Know Before Vaping

Woman Vaping

In recent years, vaping—using electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs—has become a wildly popular activity that many perceive as a healthier, “safe” alternative to cigarettes and other tobacco products.

“The truth is that little is known about the direct health effects of these products,” says Peter Shields, MD, a thoracic medical oncologist and deputy director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). “We cannot assume they are safe until we know more about possible risks, including cancer and COPD. It is imperative that the public understand these are still products that encourage inhaling potentially harmful chemicals.”

Dr. Shields added: “We expect e-cigs to be a lot safer than smoking cigarettes, but that does not mean that they are safe. We worry about smokers who would have quit smoking and instead either dually use e-cigs and do not quit, or when used by smokers to quit, they are not successful.”

Public health officials are concerned about people who use e-cigs who were never smokers, especially kids and young adults.  “We know that those e-cig vapers can have toxic effects, but we do not know how much.”

According to data from a 2016 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, more than 2 million U.S. middle- and high-school students have reported using e-cigs within the last 30 days. The Food and Drug Administration says they have new data raising even more alarms.

Shields notes that enticing flavors and colorful, inconspicuous packaging have contributed to a dramatic rise in e-cig use among younger populations. But e-cigs contain highly addictive nicotine and other potentially harmful agents, and public health experts are concerned that this increased usage could lead to cigarette use.

Ongoing Clinical Studies Evaluate Health Impact

The OSUCCC – James has two clinical studies underway to evaluate the health effects of e-cigs and other tobacco products.

The first study evaluates whether e-cig use impacts lung health differently than traditional cigarettes.

The impact of tobacco and e-cig use on the lungs is assessed via an outpatient test that allows doctors to view the airways. A small sample of lung cells is collected from fluid in the lungs of healthy smokers, e-cig users, former smokers and non-smokers to evaluate differences among the groups. Participants are also asked to complete questionnaires regarding demographic information, medical history and previous/current tobacco use. In addition, researchers are collecting information about how flavorings influence a person’s choice to use these products.

The second study evaluates the cancer-causing chemical exposure of e-cigs and cigarettes, used together or separately, in people who smoke. The goal is to identify how different methods of using tobacco impact the exposures that occur during use. The study will also yield information about how personal attitudes toward tobacco products influence how, when and why people use it.

To learn more about participating in these studies, call 1-844-744-2447 or visit cancer.osu.edu.