Are E-Cigs Suppressing Your Immune System?

E-cigarettes are marketed as healthier alternatives to tobacco smoking claiming to be useful for quitting smoking and reducing cigarette consumption.  But are they really helping people quit? Or just making it easier for them to smoke?  E-cigs offer a way for people to circumvent smoke-free laws, essentially enabling users to “smoke anywhere.” 

There has been much debate around the healthfulness of this tobacco and nicotine alternative – some saying its healthier, while others are not so convinced.  As e-cigarettes are still rather new to the smoking scene, the scientific community is still in deliberation as to the safety of vaping.  E-cigarette aerosol is likely much less toxic than cigarette smoking, but the products are unregulated, contain toxic chemicals, and have not been proven as cessation devices.  People should be advised not to use the product indoors or around children because some studies show that bystanders may be exposed to nicotine and other toxins, like second hand smoke.

As of yet, there are no long-term safety studies of e-cigarette use.  If e-cigs are being used as a tool to quit then patients should be urged to set a quit date for their e-cigarette use.  Furthermore, E-cig use should not be combined with regular cigarette use.  But as the debate for potential side effects continues, a new study by the University of North Carolina suggests that they cause harm by suppressing users’ immune systems.  This gives us reason to second guess this trend and revaluate old and new smoking habits.

The new research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC.  The team from UNC looked at tissue samples from within the nasal cavity of smokers, non-smokers, and those who vaped using electronic cigarettes. Specifically the team wanted to assess the health of the cavity’s epithelial cells, where over 600 genes involved in the immune system were analyzed.

What they found was that smoking tobacco cigarettes suppressed key immune system-related genes, and that vaping, the “safe” cigarette has the same effect.  Vaping was also found to suppress hundreds of additional immune genes which could mean that vaping is potentially worse than smoking.

This new study, highlights the fact that using e-cigarettes is anything but risk-free. It is true that e-liquid is beneficial in certain ways, like having lower concentrations of nicotine, and do not contain the carcinogenic products that normal cigarettes are made with.