Nicotine Or Not, E-Cigarette Vapors Can Cause Lung Damage

E-cigarettes can cause damage to the lungs, even if they don't contain nicotine, according to new research.

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With e-cigarettes more popular than ever among teens, these electronic devices have become a serious cause for concern. The amount of middle and high school students using e-cigs has recently tripled, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In case that stat isn't scary enough, just wait until you hear this: New research suggests that even e-cigarettes that use nicotine-free solutions may cause lung damage.

Here's what you need to know about e-cigs: They're marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes, since they don't contain tobacco. Still, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine—a highly addictive substance that comes from the leaves of tobacco plants.

Research published in the American Journal of Physiology — Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology found that nicotine in any form is damaging to the lungs and that non-nicotine e-cig solutions can be damaging to lung health as well. That's because non-nicotine e-cig solutions and vapors contain acrolein, a substance that attacks the molecules in the lungs. Lead researcher Dr. Irina Petrache says,

The increased use of inhaled nicotine via e-cigarettes, especially among the youth, prompts increased research into the effects on health. This research reports that components found in commercially available e-cigarette solutions and vapors generated by heating them may cause lung inflammation... Whereas studies of long-term effects await further investigations, these results caution that e-cigarette inhalation may be associated with adverse effects on lung health

Although e-cigs haven't been around long enough for there to be data about their long-term effects, research like this proves the need to take a closer look at just how "safe" these devices are.

While we wait for science and data to catch up, there's action you can take in the meantime! In a recent press release from the Loyola University Health System, medical director Dr. Garry Sigman says parents play an integral role in preventing teens from using e-cigs. He writes,

Parents need to ensure their children know the use of e-cigarettes should be viewed the same as other addictive substances. Nicotine is so addictive that with only a few inhales it can create an addiction... Parents cannot completely counteract the advertising and marketing campaigns targeted to youth, but they can arm themselves and their kids with knowledge. Setting rules and monitoring behavior is essential to keeping our teens safe.

If you're unsure how exactly to get the conversation started, share our "E-Cigarettes: Can They Kill You Too?" story from the February issue of Choices. It includes what teens think they know about e-cigs, counteracted with the facts they need to know to stay safe.