Do E-Cigs Make You Cough Less? And Other Studies from the ATS International Conference
Three separates studies looked at different aspects of e-cigarettes and their use, and brought to light some interesting questions about the future of e-cigarette research.
The first study of note came from lead author Dr. Peter Dicpinigaitis, MD who is a Professor of Clinical Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. What they found was that with only one exposure to e-cigarette vapor, the participants of the study showed a diminished cough reflex sensitivity. While immediately it seems like coughing less is a good thing, the study authors believe that there may be more to it than that.
“Although e-cigarettes have become popular worldwide, very little is known about their effect on the respiratory system,” said Dr. Dicpinigaitis, “There has been no other research to our knowledge on the effect of e-cigarette use on the sensitivity of the cough reflex.”
Thirty lifetime nonsmokers were selected for the study. Researchers measured the participant’s cough reflex sensitivity using capsaicin, the spicy extract you find in red pepper. Capsaicin has been used before to induce cough in previous cough reflex studies. After studying the participants before and after vaping the researchers concluded that even after just one exposure to the e-cig vapor, the participants had a lessened effect on their cough reflex sensitivity. But what does that even mean? The truth is even the researchers admit they need to know more.
“We still need to understand the clinical significance of this effect and investigate the consequences of chronic e-cigarette exposure,” Dr. Dicpinigaitis said.
Another study presented, discussed the potential toxicity of e-liquid flavorings, a topic that has come up as of late. The study is currently in progress and being led by a cell biology graduate student, Temperance Rowell, from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The researchers of the study are trying to better understand “the specific chemical components underlying the toxic effects [of flavorings].”
The researchers at Chapel Hill exposed human airway epithelial cells to doses of 13 e-cig flavors for periods of either 30 minutes or 24 hours. 5 out of the 13 analyzed showed “adverse effects to cells.” Of those five, three flavors were toxic to lung cells at higher doses in the 30-minute test. It should be noted that the negative effects didn't occur when nicotine or the e-liquid medium (either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin) were used without flavoring.
Rowell believes that, “given the increasing popularity of flavored e-cigarettes, a better understanding of their ingredients, the potential health risks of these ingredients, and the causes of these risks is urgently needed.”
The third study, is taking on e-cigarettes as a cessation method, claiming that they may not be as effective as some like to believe. Lead author Riyad al-Lehebi, MBBS, of the University of Toronto believes that the use of e-cigarettes as cessation devices may not be as effective, “While e-cigarettes have been shown to significantly improve abstinence at 1 month compared with placebo, no such evidence is available supporting their effectiveness for longer periods.”
In al-Lehebi’s study, participants at the 1 month mark of using e-cigarettes showed significantly improvement in their ability to remain abstinent from smoking. The researchers, however found this effect was no longer observed at 3 or 6 month follow-ups.
For al-Lehebi, he believes that “until such data is available, there are a number of other smoking cessation aids available that have a more robust evidence base supporting their efficacy and safety.”
So once again, the conclusion is the same… more research is needed. Not a surprise, is it? That’s the same thing we hear every day, yet the piles of evidence still mount toward all the potential benefits that e-cigarettes can provide, despite what the critics say.
There may be one study that says e-cigarettes aren’t effective as cessation methods, but there are others that do. There may be one study that says e-cigarettes make you cough less and that’s bad, or maybe they make you cough less and that’s good. The truth is standing on their own, there are still so many questions about e-cigarettes that is it hard to even fault the researchers for continuing to produce contradictory research. That is why if you want to best gauge their efficiency you must compare e-cigarettes to their combustible counterparts.
If you are like the majority of vapers out there, whether you are trying to quit or not, you use e-cigarettes as a replacement for the traditional cigarette. So since you are replacing something (cigarettes) for something else (e-cigarettes), shouldn’t those two items be factored into the comparison you are making? It doesn’t make sense to show me how healthy an e-cigarette is for me compared to the air I breathe, but I’d love to know how much better is it for me than that cigarette I would have smoked if I didn’t have e-cigarettes.
It’s not to say that you shouldn’t be concerned about what is in an e-cigarette, but I guarantee you can worry about a toxic chemical in your e-liquid all day, but there will still be thousands more chemicals and harmful constituents in that nasty old cigarette you used to smoke. So please, let’s try and keep things in perspective.
Apply that comparison to a few of these studies discussed here and you will see what I mean. Dr. Dicpinigaitis in his previous research on cough reflex sensitivity showed that traditional cigarettes also result in a diminished cough response. This is due to airway receptors losing sensitivity when they come in contact with the noxious smoke. While it seems there is a tendency for e-cig vapor to lessen these receptors too, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to tell you which one in the end will have you coughing less.
Another study was recently published about e-liquid chemicals in the flavorings. What both this study and the recent one presented at ATS forget to do is compare to cigarettes. What we find is that in chemical content alone, cigarettes contain 2 to 3 times more chemical flavoring agents than e-liquid. What would you rather put in your body?
There is all the room in the world for more research about e-cigs. Those who vape are already making a healthier decision for themselves by reducing their smoke and tar intake, of course they are going to be concerned by how healthy that e-cig really is. None of that changes the fact, however, that smoking is bad, and any tool in your arsenal you have to keep you from lighting up that smoke is an important tool to be considered.
Just like the experts and researchers, I too believe there needs to be much more research done. However, I’d like it to be relevant to smokers and ex-smokers, and compare the things that truly need to be compared, so people can really know what happens when they make the switch from cigarettes to vaping. And how in so many ways it can change your life for the better.