Vaping and your Immune System
The electronic cigarette market's worth is estimated to hit 21.7 billion dollars by 2018. It's a huge market underpinned by the marketing of e-cigarettes as a guilt-free safe alternative to smoking tobacco. There are currently over 500 brands available.
2.6 million people in the UK use electronic cigarettes and in early 2016, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency cleared the brand 'e-Voke' for licence in the UK meaning it could be available on prescription soon.
It's the use of e-cigarettes instead of traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes deliver a dose of nicotine but don't contain the tar of cigarettes. Instead, a cartridge of nicotine and chemicals is heated and the vapour inhaled, hence the term vaping instead of smoking. It's promoted as a way of quitting smoking - a temporary support on the path to quitting nicotine completely.
And The Immune System?
The immune system refers to the body's response to illness. It's made up from cells, tissues and organs that move quickly to kill organisms and substances that create illness and cause disease.
It's our first line of defence against illness. We strengthen our immune system with vaccinations and rely on it every day to prevent and heal infections from cuts for example, or to stop us developing pneumonia from a common cold.
How Does Vaping Affect the Immune System?
A new study from the University of North Carolina shows that vaping suppresses the immune system.
The researchers studied tissue samples from the nasal cavities of smokers, non-smokers and vapers (the term for an e-cigarette user).They looked at 600 genes that are involved in the immune response. Urine, blood samples and nasal fluid were also studied.
They found that vaping suppresses the same genes that traditional tobacco does, as well as hundreds more. Cinnamon flavoured e-cigarettes produced the largest suppressive effect and also caused damage to white blood cells that target tumours and infections.
Researchers say that more study is needed but it suggests that vaping compromises the nasal cavity immune system - which may cascade into other organs such as the lungs.
Is Vaping Safe Then?
The jury is still out on the safety of vaping. There's just not enough evidence for health and government bodies to make a decision either way. E-cigarettes are a relatively new invention and the long term effects simply aren't available yet.
In comparison to traditional cigarettes, vaping cuts out the tar, arsenic and particle inhalation that causes lung cancer. They may also have lower levels of nicotine that means they are less addictive.
Public Health England (PHE) stated last year that e-cigarettes were 95% safer than traditional cigarettes and that they could make a 'significant contribution to the endgame of tobacco'. They don't claim e-cigarettes are 100% safe, but that they pose less risks that traditional smoking.
In terms of passive smoking, vaping almost eliminates the risk as vapour is directly inhaled into the user's lungs rather than burned into the surrounding environment or inhaled by others. This is no doubt good news to people living with smokers that have concerns about their own health and that of their children.
But some studies show e-cigarettes are not as safe as the manufacturers would have us believe.
- Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health researchers looked at 52 types of flavoured e-cigarettes. 92% of them contained diacetyl - a flavouring that can create popcorn lung when inhaled. Popcorn lung is a number of tiny tears in the air sacs. It can lead to COPD, scarring and shortness of breath.
- Another study from the University of California re-created the effect of e-cigarette vapours on human cells and found exposed cells developed DNA damage and died far more rapidly than untreated cells.
- A study from the John Hopkins University found the vapour of e-cigarettes harm lungs and made them susceptible to infections when tested in mice.
What To Do?
PHE has expressed concerns that reports about the risks of vaping are preventing smokers from trying it. Smoking kills 100,000 a year in the UK but figures show it's at its lowest prevalence for 40 years. We need to keep it heading that way because smoking not only causes lung cancer it can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Premature aging
- Gum disease and tooth loss
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)
- Stomach Ulcers
- Weak bones
- Reduced fertility
- Low birth weight and poor newborn health
- Passive smoking
The best bet for optimal health is to give up smoking and vaping entirely.
If you want the support of e-cigarettes, it's best to use them temporarily as a stepping stone to quitting entirely. If you want to give up smoking but don't like the idea of e-cigarettes, there are other options to support quitters such as patches, gum and hypnotherapy.
Every cigarette you leave untouched will extend your life and improve your health immeasurably. Talk to your local stop-smoking team if you need help.