In a new study on vaping, scientists discovered that the habit alters the immune system even more than regular cigarette smoking. E-cigarettes affect significantly more genes necessary for upper airway defense than conventional cigarettes — and we are talking about hundreds.
The study, published in the American Journal of Physiology, involved 13 non-smokers, 14 smokers and 12 e-cigarette users. Participants were asked to document their smoking/vaping activity. Urine and blood samples were drawn to determine nicotine levels and tobacco biomarkers. About three weeks later, nasal samples were collected for genetic assessment.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine analyzed gene expression, or the process by which genetic instructions (codes) are used to synthesize gene products (usually protein). These products help boost immunity.
The research team found that smoking cigarettes reduced the expression of 53 genes, while using e-cigarettes reduced 358 — over six times more. The genes affected in smoking are also altered in vaping, but are more “suppressed” in the latter.
While findings appear to suggest that vaping is worse, lead researcher Ilona Jaspers is uncertain about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on health. However, she suspects that they “will not be the same as the effects of cigarette smoking.”
Jaspers believes that a direct comparison is wrong:
“We know that diseases like COPD, cancer, and emphysema usually take many years to develop in smokers. But people have not been using e-cigarettes for very long. So we don’t know yet how the effects of e-cigarette use might manifest in 10 or 15 years. We’re at the beginning of cataloging and observing what may or may not be happening.”
In a 2015 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. The rise was approximately 120,000 to 450,000 (middle school) and 660,000 to 2 million students (high school).
Nicotine exposure from a young age can cause harm in brain development and promote addiction, CDC director Tom Frieden warned at the time. He informed parents that such is dangerous for kids at any age.
Currently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes over 250 brands of e-cigarettes out in the market. It must be pointed, however, that these products are subject to government regulation just like tobacco products.