On the 17th Of November a possible landmark piece of research was published in the Scientific Reports Journal.

The research compared vapers that were considered never smokers, with a group of never smokers/ never vapers, and found no difference in lung health after 3.5 years.

You read that correctly.

3.5 years and no significant changes.

The study’s abstract actually states, “No significant changes could be detected over the observation period from baseline in the EC (e cigarette) users or between EC users and control subjects in any of the health outcomes investigated. Moreover, no pathological findings could be identified on HRCT of the lungs and no respiratory symptoms were consistently reported in the EC user group.”

BUT….

Before we get too excited and wave this research in everyone’s face, the numbers in the study are small.

Very small.

Only 9 never smoking vapers were compared against 12 never smokers/vapers. This means that for the research to hold water, it needs to be replicated and with larger numbers.

However, let’s get a little excited and look further into this…

Concerns over the long term affects of vaping are still very much in the forefront of the minds of many, not just the anti-smoking brigade. So even though this study is small, it is still of significance because it was done over a time frame of 3.5 years. In the world of scientific studies, long term can be anything from 6 months to decades, it all depends upon what you are studying. In this case, this is the longest time frame for vaping research that has been published of this kind.

Here we have a small group, over a long time, monitoring their lung health. This is vital, because as the study mentions, “it is important to consider that it is difficult (if not impossible) to disentangle responses driven by chronic exposure to EC aerosol emissions from those related to previous smoking history.”

In other words, if a vaper that has been a smoker developed a chronic illness, how would one know if it was the smoking or the vaping that was responsible or a contributing factor?

The answer? We wouldn’t.

This research though begins to change that.

This study was in depth with many health measurements taken so the comparisons could be a tight as possible. This included measuring, “blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR), body weight, lung function, respiratory symptoms, as well as exhaled biomarkers of airway inflammation (exhaled breath nitric oxide [eNO] and carbon monoxide [eCO]). EC users were also offered high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) of the lungs at the end of follow-up to assess their risk for early signs of lung damage.”

The design of the research meant that only those that had ever smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their entire lifetime, and had been vaping for more than 3 months were considered for the trial as never smoked/vapers. They were then age, and sex matched for the non-smoking/non-vaping control group.

The study ran from June 2013, till March 2017.

The study included self-reporting questions regarding respiratory symptoms, which were verified at baseline and at each study follow-up visits by asking 4 yes/no questions:

They were:

1. For cough: “Have you had any cough in the previous 2-weeks?”

2. For wheeze: “Have you heard any wheeze when breathing?”

3. For shortness of breath: “Have you been short of breath in the previous 2-weeks?”

4. For tight chest: “Have you had difficulty in breathing like a sensation of pressure on your chest?”

It is interesting to note that 3 of the nine vapers were vaping non-nicotine e-liquid the entire time.

The researchers found  regarding Lung Function:

“Changes in FEV1, FVC, %FEV1/FVC and FEF25–75 from baseline and between study groups are shown in Table 2 and Fig. 1. No significant change from baseline was observed over the 3.5-years observation period in the EC group (Fig. 1, panels A–D). No significant difference was found between EC users and control subjects. None of the lung function variables showed a significant between-group (i.e., EC users/Controls) effect (Table 2; Fig. 1, panels A–D). Again, because of the small sample size, we checked all individual datasets one by one to detect signs of negative changes and found no such changes, even among those with the highest e-liquid consumption (5 ml/day) and longest vaping hx (57 months).”

The highlights are ours, yet  4 times, in this one  paragraph,  the researchers stated they found no significant changes after 3.5 years.

The researchers also touch upon a few other concerns that have been highlighted regarding the possible harms of vaping. They mention the possible effect of vaping on the heart, hence their measurements of blood pressure, of which they found no significant difference.  They also mention particle size. To answer the particle issue,  the researchers refer to “Long-term studies in healthy smokers and smokers with asthma and COPD switching to EC use have shown not only no clinically significant adverse respiratory effects, but, to the contrary, a mitigation of the harmful effects of smoked tobacco on the lung.”

The researchers were completely open and discussed the  weak areas of this study; the relatively young age of those studied, (27-28 yrs was the average), the size of the study and how hard it is to find never smoker/vapers – (they make up 0.1% of the vaping population).  They also mention that maybe 3.5 years was not long enough for any harm to materialise, even though it can only take 2.5 years for the effects of smoking to show up with those that smoke a packet ( more than 10 cigarettes)  a day.

We too must bear these limitations in mind, otherwise we are no better than those flouting junk science as Gospel. 

In conclusion though, these are the first researched findings of this type to be published, and they certainly warrant further studies.

As the researchers themselves wrote,

“This small study, the first of its kind to date, found no detectable changes in lung health in never smokers who have been regularly vaping for at least 4 years. Daily exposure to ECs aerosol emissions caused no significant changes in any of the health outcomes investigated, including measures of lung function and lung inflammation.”

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