“E-cigarette use grew an astounding 900 percent among high school students between 2011 and 2015,” writes Lindsey Konkel in Science News for Students, but many students are under the impression that vaping is safer than other traditional tobacco products.
While research on the safety of vaping chemicals is still in its early phases, one study out of the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, done on lab rats, shows that the effects are different from, but nearly as dangerous, as smoking. When male mice were exposed to e-cigarette vapors in utero, their sperm count decreased, indicating that certain vaping chemicals can, at least temporarily, decrease fertility. Adverse health effects also included genetic changes. Male mice exposed to nicotine-laced vapors had little-to-no measurable genetic changes in the frontal cortex. Female mice however, had altered activity of up to 148 genes in their brain’s frontal cortex alone. Nicotine-free vapor had an even worse effect: roughly 830 genes were unusually high or low. Judy Zelikoff, the research lead, writes, “We were so surprised [by the results] that we repeated the experiment two more times.” The recorded gene changes could cause altered behavior, or even mental illness. The danger extends to humans. In one recent study, cells were scraped from people who smoked, vaped, and did neither. Researchers measured 594 genes related to the immune system. In both smokers and vapers, 53 of the same genes showed depressed activity. But those who vaped also had 305 other genes whose activity was depressed, showing that vaping can, in some areas, have a greater negative effect than smoking. Immune cells were also collected from a different group of healthy non-smokers and vapers. These cells were then exposed to various liquids and e-cigarette flavorings. Many of the flavorings were disturbingly effective at stopping immune cells from working properly. Human cell Fibroblasts (cells responsible for helping close cuts in any organ) were also found to be damaged by e-cigarette vapors. The Fibroblasts were able to morph into wound-healing cells but were unable to close cuts due to a substantial failure in their mitochondria. This does not fully address whether or not vaping can also slow wound healing, but it does suggest a connection. Toxic metals were also found in e-cigarettes in varying concentrations, which were mostly affected by the heat. The two most well known are Formaldehyde and Acetaldehyde, which are considered carcinogens, but other metals– including Nickel, Chromium, and Manganese– were also found in the vapors of some e-cigarettes. Many medical professionals warn against the dangers of vaping. Rob McConnell, an internal medicine specialist at USC in Los Angeles, notes, “There are a lot of potentially harmful substances in e-cigarettes. If you’re a teen with your whole life in front of you, why take that risk?”