21 September 2018

Electronic or conventional?

Scientists have told the truth about electronic cigarettes

Alfiya Yenikeeva, RIA Novosti

According to various estimates, from one and a half to four percent of Russians smoke electronic cigarettes, and their popularity is only growing. The main reason is the confidence in the relative harmlessness of vaping. Heavy smokers hope to get rid of the bad habit in this way. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns against excessive enthusiasm for electronic cigarettes, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia has developed a bill proposing to equate them with ordinary ones: limit the sale and ban smoking in public places.

Rat smokers

In 2016, in one of the laboratories of the V. I. Vernadsky Crimean Federal University, a group of biologists forced two dozen rats to "smoke" electronic cigarettes.

The animals were placed in a seed chamber, where an aerosol of a nicotine-free liquid, commonly used in vapes, was injected. Rodents received a daily dose of a smoker in terms of their weight – 0.005 milligrams of liquid. A third of the rats regularly inhaled the aerosol for a week, a third for 30 days, and the rest for two months.

The researchers then compared the lungs of smoker rats and animals from the control group. It turned out that the longer the rodents breathed cigarette aerosol, the worse their respiratory organs looked. Biologists have recorded atelectasis (when the lobes of the lung are actually deflated), swelling and thinning of the interalveolar septa, significant changes in the bronchi.

According to scientists, the internal organs of rodents suffered so much, most likely, from propylene glycol and glycerin contained in almost all all liquids – both nicotine and nicotine-free, which are filled with electronic cigarettes. These substances, if inhaled for a long time, cause irritation of the respiratory tract, eyes, and adversely affect the central nervous system.


Lung samples of a rat inhaling an aerosol of nicotine-free liquid for electronic cigarettes on the seventh day. Pikalyuk et al., "Structural changes in rat lungs during inhalation of an aerosol of nicotine-free liquid for electronic cigarettes", Journal of Anatomy and Histopathology, 2016.

Careful, heavy metals!

In addition, aerosol vaping liquids contain heavy metals – tin, nickel, copper, lead, chromium – in concentrations sometimes a hundred times higher than in conventional cigarettes. According to researchers from the University of California at Riverside (USA), nickel and chromium nanoparticles fall into the aerosol from the heating element. Penetrating into the alveoli of the lungs, they have a local toxic effect, and then are carried by arterial blood throughout the body.

When smoking, not only vaping lovers themselves are poisoned, but also those around them. Scientists from the University of California at Berkeley, having measured the levels of dangerous substances in a bar where it is allowed to smoke electronic cigarettes, found that the concentrations of toxins are several times higher than safe indicators. There was especially a lot of formaldehyde – a substance used in the furniture industry in the production of plastics and paint products.

But even with such frightening values, the level of this dangerous toxin, which causes leukemia, brain cancer and serious ovarian damage, in the ambient air is several times lower than in the vapors inhaled by smokers themselves. According to the staff of the University of Nevada and the Desert Research Institute, this means that a large amount of toxic substances settles in the body of the smoker.


It is better not to smoke at all

Some scientists believe that e-cigarettes are not as dangerous as is commonly believed, but this is rather a marginal point of view that is not supported in the scientific community. There are studies proving that the incidence of cancer among vapers is lower than among regular smokers. And according to a report by the UK Ministry of Health, e–cigarettes are the most effective way to quit smoking for those who want to get rid of this addiction.

"It's safest not to smoke at all. But if a person is unable to give up smoking (a disease!) and chooses a way to combat addiction, then scientific data clearly show that electronic cigarettes are less dangerous compared to tobacco, although they are not harmless. It is unlikely that vapes contribute to "quitting smoking", however, it is possible to reduce the harm to oneself and others through electronic cigarettes," says narcologist, MD, Professor of Kazan Federal University, WHO expert Vladimir Mendelevich.

Vapes, like regular cigarettes, contain psychoactive substances (nicotine), which means they form addiction, and this is not only a psychological aspect.

"It is known that nicotine addiction is one of the most severe and resistant to therapy, and in terms of the severity of the addictive potential, nicotine is in third place out of fifteen drugs, second only to heroin and crack," Mendelevich clarifies.

That is why electronic cigarettes are useless in the fight against smoking, experts of the World Health Organization and the American National Cancer Institute are sure. Moreover, according to a study by employees of the Voronezh State Medical University named after N. N. Burdenko, those who smoke vapes often have the same high level of addiction to nicotine as more conservative smokers.

The benefits are doubtful, but the harm is obvious

"Unfortunately, the talk about the dangers of electronic cigarettes has gone beyond the academic discussion. Too many lobbyists on both sides are trying to put science at their service. Sometimes you have to read "reviews" in serious journals with a clearly selective approach to the analysis of research. Therefore, the conclusions of scientists vary so much. But in one thing, the opinion of researchers is consolidated: vapes are not harmless," says Vladimir Mendelevich. Among the proven consequences are serious problems with the heart and blood vessels. In mice, which American doctors forced to regularly breathe the vapors of electronic cigarettes, the walls of arteries and veins became brittle quite quickly, and this leads to the development of cardiovascular diseases.  Swedish scientists from Karolinska University observed similar changes in the human body. Fifteen young volunteers who smoked a full-fledged vape had the same problems as the mice in the American experiments: the arteries narrowed and lost flexibility. This increased the pressure and caused negative effects characteristic of tobacco lovers.  In addition, the smoke inhaled during vaping harms the most intimate – human DNA, which increases the risk of dying from cancer someday. On the other hand, the immunity of vapers is seriously affected – electronic cigarettes, especially with aromatic additives, are detrimental to monocytes. In the experiments of researchers from University of Rochester (USA), these most important cells of the immune system, dying, threw out a lot of signaling molecules, which, in turn, generated inflammatory reactions in the lungs.

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