Long-term study shows: e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco consumption

E cigarette

E-cigarettes and liquids containing nicotine are strictly regulated in Europe. The liquid components must be sent to the authorities. Overall, there are strict guidelines for the ingredients: the nicotine content must not exceed 20 milliliters per solution. All other ingredients must be pure, additives such as vitamins, caffeine, taurine or certain flavors are prohibited. (Image:: pixabay.com, rolandmey)

Scientists generally regard the e-cigarette as a less harmful alternative to traditional smoking. So far, there has been little knowledge about the long-term effects of the alternative to smoking cessation. This changes a recently published study, which comes to astonishing conclusions.

Less dangerous substances than in tobacco smoke

Studies by the University of Mainz suggest that one in eight people has smoked an e-cigarette in the past. In addition, e-cigarettes are one of the most popular ways to quit smoking. An estimated 90 percent of all vapers have previously smoked tobacco cigarettes. Unlike conventional cigarettes, a liquid is used that is vaporized by a heating coil. There are also significant differences in temperature and nicotine content: While tobacco cigarettes cause embers up to 1100 degrees, the liquid in e-cigarettes heats up to a maximum of 300 degrees. The nicotine content, which is around 0.8 mg in a cigarette, varies in an e-cigarette. The user decides for himself whether he prefers nicotine-containing or nicotine-free liquid.

Despite all the differences, the health risk of the e-cigarette is rated by the population as equal or higher. In fact, previous studies indicate that e-cigarettes are around up to 95 percent less harmful are considered to be tobacco cigarettes. According to current risk assessments, an e-cigarette is therefore suitable as a means of switching from tobacco cigarettes. In contrast to conventional cigarettes, the aerosols released by vaping contain considerably fewer carcinogenic substances. Nevertheless, the e-cigarette vapor cannot be classified as generally harmless. Although the electronic cigarette releases fewer harmful substances, the nicotine-containing liquid can produce harmful breakdown products when it evaporates.

In addition, the vaporizers can have various side effects. Since the species composition of the oral microbes changes as a result of vaping, e-cigarettes could change the body’s own oral flora. Scientists at Ohio State University came to this conclusion after comparing the gums of nonsmokers with the gums of smokers and vapers. There were clear differences in the evaluation. The oral flora of e-cigarette users showed similarities with patients suffering from gingivitis. Sensitive users also react to the substance propylene glycol contained in the steam with respiratory or eye irritations.

Still, e-cigarettes are low in nicotine a sensible option for smokers to quit tobacco. Analyzed studies lead to the conclusion that e-cigarettes help smokers to reduce their craving for a smoldering stick. In contrast to chewing gum or nicotine patches, however, the “ritual” of smoking is retained through an imitation. The tobacco-free alternative could positively influence the transition to smoke-free.

Results of the long-term studies: E-cigarettes are less harmful to the heart, blood vessels and lungs

Current long-term studies on e-cigarettes assume far less damage to health than with tobacco cigarettes. A Scottish Study for example, suspects a comparatively better vascular health with e-cigarette consumption. Regardless of whether the subjects smoked liquids with or without nicotine, their vascular health improved. In the comparison group that continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes, the positive effect was significantly lower.

In addition to the two-year data from Scotland, another study allows conclusions to be drawn about the pollution of e-cigarettes. In a previously unprecedented experimental set-up, Prof. Dr. Riccardo Polosa, Director of the Institute of Internal Medicine and Clinical Immunology at the University of Catania (Italy), possible long-term damage. That’s what he recruited for for the study a total of nine active “steamers”, which he regularly examined medically over a period of three and a half years. Doctors checked the bronchi, blood pressure, body weight, as well as lung and respiratory function and heart rate. They compared the data with a second reference group consisting of twelve non-smokers who had never used tobacco before. In this way, it was possible for the scientists to clearly determine the exposures caused by aerosols from e-cigarettes.

As a result, the researcher found no demonstrable negative effects that can be attributed to the e-cigarette. Accordingly, there were no significant medical differences between the e-cigarette users and the non-smoking control group. Even with “intensive steamers”, the scientists were unable to detect any pathological findings in the lungs. Of course, these are preliminary results that must be finally answered in further investigations. Nevertheless, based on the study results, it can be assumed that the state of health will remain the same after using an e-cigarette for three and a half years.

In this respect, the researchers sum up: In small quantities of a maximum of four milliliters of liquid daily, e-cigarette consumption presumably does not pose any health risks. Long-term studies of their own are required for significantly higher doses, as the experts do not rule out health risks in this case.

The situation is different for smokers who also smoke e-cigarettes: According to a US study, they are most frequently affected by respiratory diseases. In this respect, double use could be problematic for smokers – especially if they do not reduce their original daily dose but increase it because of the e-cigarette.

Positive findings for smokers

The long-term study by Prof. Dr. Riccardo Polosa is considered to be one of the first of its kind to seriously deal with the subject of e-cigarettes. Based on the results, smokers should be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes (for the time being). Nevertheless, experts advise not to view vaping as the sole means of compensation. Anyone who consumes e-cigarettes in excess instead of the glowing sticks is likely to damage their own health in the long term. Caution should also be exercised with the products: e-cigarettes and liquids should be certified and approved for the European market. Furthermore, liquids should never be mixed yourself. Oily liquids and flavorings from non-certified suppliers are also suspected of causing serious respiratory diseases.

In addition, smokers should be aware of the fact that weaning does not happen overnight. Not every heavy smoker would ultimately be able to switch to completely nicotine-free liquid.

Overall, the variety of e-cigarettes and the limited number of studies to date make generally valid statements difficult. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment also avoids evaluating nicotine vaporizers in general. It refers to the numerous flavors, manufacturers and flavors. Overall, it will take a few more years for research into the long-term effects of e-cigarette consumption to mature.


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