A common assumption amongst scientists is that anything that enters the body through inhalation (such as smoking and flavoured e-liquids) will have a detrimental effect on the lungs.
This is mainly applied to illnesses such as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and bronchitis.
For people who suffer with these issues and still smoke the advice has always been to stop (which is still the case!) but a new study by researchers at the University of Catania looked at the effect of e-cigarettes on smokers with asthma, and found e-cigarettes might not be as bad for asthma as first thought.
It gives hope for smokers who suffer with these illnesses if they can't quit smoking, as there might be a better option than cigarettes for their nicotine.
The University of Catania study
In the study, researchers from the University of Catania studied a group of 18 asthmatic test subjects who each had a history of using tobacco on a daily basis. Before the trial, none of the participants had vaped before.
The subjects of this study were asked to switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping and then monitored over a period of two years. In the study's early stages the participants were all given the same vaping devices and e-liquids to use every single day to make the comparison fair. Throughout the duration of the study the researchers recorded and compared a number of different biomarkers for each smoker, including:
- Daily rates of smoking vs. vaping
- Airflow through the lungs
- Asthma symptoms rates
- Overall breathing
- Progress of respiratory functions over time
- Rate of asthma attacks
The researchers then gathered, reviewed, and compared the data after every six-months, with monitoring going from 6, 12, and 24 months.
To put this in perspective, this is a very small study on a select group of people, but the results were promising for those smokers with respiratory issues. After 2 years of monitoring the scientists found "Significant and stable improvements in respiratory symptoms".
Not all the participants kept to e-cigarettes, many used both tobacco and e-cigarettes, but even these dual users found their symptoms improved. They didn't have the same improvements as those who just used e-cigarettes, but that was to be expected.
The participants who switched to vaping entirely experienced fewer asthma attacks and the most noticeable improvements to their asthma symptoms compared to the users who used both the vaping products and cigarettes.
Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly) the participants who continued to smoke regularly experienced significantly worse asthma symptoms over time.
This study lines up with another study which focused on COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and also found that smokers with that disease had their symptoms helped by switching to e-cigarettes.
How E-Cigarettes might help
A lot more study needs to be done on this subject before we have a proper conclusion, but this is a great first step towards helping smokers with asthma or other respiratory illnesses.
As was mentioned at the very beginning of this article, anyone with respiratory or lung based illnesses shouldn't be smoking and should be aiming to take nothing into their lungs but air.
In the case of COPD (which is primarily caused by smoking) and asthma though these people know that but are still smoking anyway. More than likely they have tried to stop smoking but are unable to, which is where this study can help.
The lead author of this study, Dr Riccardo Polosa, is the head of the Centre for the Prevention and Treatment of Tobacco Addiction in Catalonia and actually conducted this study on asthma and the one on COPD we mentioned before. And although he readily acknowledges the addictive nature of nicotine he also notes that the nicotine in cigarettes is not the reason that tobacco is the number 1 preventable cause of death in the world, but the 4000+ chemicals in burning tobacco.
E-cigarettes, which don’t have any of the 4000+ chemicals that Dr Riccardo Polosa was referring to, could then help sufferers of respiratory illnesses by eliminating the chemicals, while still giving smokers the nicotine they need.
In both studies the aim of the experiment was to see if harm reduction can help with the symptoms rather than the actual cause. Again he notes that it would be better for these smokers to give up everything, but if they can’t at least with e-cigarettes they can help their symptoms.
It is not hard to see why though these long-time smokers found it better to switch with e-cigarettes, as studies have shown that e-cigarette users have the highest success rate compared to patches and gum. The feeling of drawing vapour into the lungs, along with the taste of tobacco and the hit of nicotine to the throat, can make the e-cigarette the next best thing to a cigarette.
For long-time smokers who have been using tobacco for 30+ years trying to quit is not just about the nicotine (though that is a big part) but also the hand to mouth action. By replicating this motion and giving the smoker the taste of tobacco as well it can help long time smokers ease themselves away from cigarettes.
E-cigarettes then can be extremely helpful in the right circumstances, and for people who have tried to quit before they can be the way to finally get of cigarettes. They are also classed by Public Health England as at least 95% less harmful than cigarettes due again to the fact e-cigarettes don’t have the 4000+ chemicals and 50+ carcinogens of tobacco. If you want to give them a try and see if you too can make the switch then try one of our starter kits.