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In the past, smoking cigarettes used to be the “cool” thing to do, but eventually people realized that cigarettes contain many chemicals known to cause lung cancer. As the National Cancer Institute reports, 90% of male deaths and 80% of female deaths from lung cancer are caused by smoking. Amidst the negative health impacts and rising social stigma associated with smoking cigarettes, a new fad arose to replace traditional cigarettes: e-cigarettes.

What is an e-cigarette, and how is it different from cigarettes?

For one, e-cigarettes are electronic—they do not need lighters or any source of flames to light up, but instead, they vaporize the prepackaged liquid, with or without nicotine, for inhalation. Therefore, e-cigarette companies usually make a broad claim that their product is a safer alternative to smoking because it does not burn and no smoke is produced. Another aspect that attracts users is the ability to customize the product. The e-cigarette can take on a multitude of shapes and sizes for a unique look, and the liquid cartridge can be swapped for thousands of other flavors. Since traditional smoking is no longer “cool”, the public turned to what seems to be the safer, cooler alternative. E-cigarettes were too new to be adequately evaluated by the scientific community, and this has been an advantage for the marketing of e-cigarettes. Until now.

 E-cigarette next to cigarettes in ashtrays

Image Source: Pete Ridge

In an article published in PLOS ONE, scientists studied the effects of vaporized liquid in the lungs of mice to find that chronic or constant exposure to such vapors reduced the lung’s capability to clear out bacteria and increased susceptibility to viral infections. In addition, the vaporization process produces significant amounts of free radicals that damages the lung tissues and causes inflammation, which could lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Their study involved placing mice into specialized boxes and exposing them to vaporized NJOY menthol bold (1.8% nicotine), a type of e-cigarette, for two weeks. The mice underwent two 1.5 hour long sessions a day with an addition of a two-second puff of the vaporized liquid every 10 seconds—equivalent to an average chronic smoker’s session. The blood serums of exposed mice were then immediately tested for cotinine (the main metabolite of nicotine) and found to be at comparable levels to those of chronic smokers.

Although this study had no obvious faults in design, another scientist commented on the limited scope of products tested; only one brand (NJOY) and liquid type was tested. While this finding was a crucial stepping stone, further research with a more comprehensive survey of different e-cigarettes needs to be done.

Feature Image Source: E Cigarette User Exhaling Vapor Smoke – Vape Pen e cig Device by Ecig Click

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