Illinois PTA has posted about e-cigarettes and “vaping” previously. Among middle and high school students, use of e-cigarettes has surpassed use of traditional cigarettes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The perception most people have is that e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes. A new study in the American Journal of Physiology—Lung, Cellular, and Molecular Physiology questions that perception.

Cigarette smoke is known to break down the cells that make up the lining of the lungs (i.e., lung endothelial cells that let oxygen pass from the lungs to the bloodstream), but it was not known what component of cigarette smoke caused this breakdown. Researchers investigated to see if nicotine was the culprit. They exposed mice as well as lung endothelial cells of both mice and humans to cigarette smoke and e-cigarette solutions that either contained nicotine or were nicotine-free.

The results showed that nicotine damaged the lung endothelial cells by inflaming the cells, reducing their function, and decreasing their ability to replace themselves. Higher doses of nicotine caused greater damage, indicating that nicotine plays a significant role in damaging the lung cells.

Surprisingly, nicotine-free e-cigarette solutions were also found to contain lung-damaging substances such as acrolein. This substance, which is present in both e-cigarette solution and vapor, damages the lungs by attacking the molecules that hold endothelial cells together.

While additional research on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are still ongoing, this study is another indication that e-cigarettes, even when nicotine-free, can be damaging to the lungs. Parents should not view e-cigarette smoking or “vaping” by their children as a safer alternative to smoking.