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Christopher Hewgley


During the 1960’s, cigarette smoking was at its peak. Roughly 47% of adults in the U.S. were smokers and everywhere you looked you were fed the lie that cigarettes were beneficial in numerous ways especially with the new addition of cigarette filters (Roper 1953). Cities were filled with billboards for Camel, newspaper ads for Lucky Strike and TV commercials for Old Gold. The 60’s were also the rise of advertising and cigarette brands were indorsed by the top athletes, politicians, and even doctors.  Fast forward to today and cigarette use has crashed down to 19% by adults in 2011 and is often shunned by the current culture (WHO 2012). But now a new form of nicotine usage is on the rise: vaping.


So, what is vaping? Vaping is the usage of an e-cigarette. An e-cigarette is made up of a battery powered heating element, a cartridge containing the solution which you vape and an atomizer that turns the solution into vapor during the heating process. Different things can be vaped, but most commonly it is juices containing nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin and water as well as flavoring. Propylene glycol and glycerol are ingredients which researchers are especially interested in because they are not in regular cigarettes, meaning nothing is known about its effects on the lungs (Cai 2017). And just like cigarettes during the 60’s, very little is known about vaping today and it is being advertised as a healthier option than cigarettes as well as a way to quit cigarette smoking (Pisinger 2014). But is it truly healthier? In this paper I will analyze evidence proving that electronic cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes, yet still harmful.


In 2015, a group of researchers conducted a study in Hannover, Germany in order to compare the effects of vaping and cigarette usage on bronchial epithelial cells. Bronchial epithelial cells help lubricate and clean your lungs, while also controlling lung humidity. In the experiment they purchased standard combustible cigarettes with filters and a refillable vape/e-cigarette and filled the individual cartridges with several different solutions: a standard e-liquid with a propylene glycol base with the flavor “Tennessee Cured” in both 0% nicotine concentrations and 2.4% concentrations, pure propylene glycol and pure glycerol. Then they had two patients donate lung tissue samples and bronchial epithelial cells were isolated from the samples. Then a smoking robot used both the electronic cigarette with each e-liquid and regular cigarettes under the same parameters. The cells were placed inside the smoking robot and the experiment was conducted a total of eight times, all independently from one another. The cells were then compared to the control cells from the same donors that were taken out of incubation but were not used in the experiment. The researchers then analyzed cell viability and oxidative stress levels in the cells (Scheffler et al. 2015). Cell viability is “the measure of the proportion of live, healthy cells within a population” and oxidative stress levels are “an imbalance of free radicals and oxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.” (Synopsis of cell proliferation…2020), (Eske 2019). This means that the higher levels of oxidative stress in cells, the faster the cells age.


The results of the experiment found that regular cigarettes are almost five times as damaging to the health and stress levels of bronchial epithelial cells which increases their rate of aging when compared to the effects of e-cigarettes. It also found that the pure glycerol was more damaging than the rest of the e-cigarette solutions used in the experiment. Lastly, it found that the standard solution e-cigarette cartridges with nicotine were not more damaging to the lung cells than those without nicotine. This helps prove the idea that it is not the nicotine in the e-cigarettes that is causing significant harm to the lungs, but the other chemicals and liquids in the solutions. In other words, while nicotine has harmful effects on other parts of the body and mind, it is not a direct cause for lung damage.


These results were very progressive in the field of e-cigarette research because they found strong evidence supporting the idea that e-cigarettes are less destructive than regular cigarettes. The study did an excellent job at trying to reduce the number of outside factors affecting the results. They monitored many specific aspects such as the oxygen levels during the inhaling process and the extent of time inhaling and exhaling occurred. Although they kept minimal differences between experiments, there was one significant draw back to their study which they acknowledged: E-cigarettes and regular cigarettes are used in a very different manner. They looked at data from and found that the average e-cigarette user takes four times as many puffs from the device than a cigarette smoker (McLauren 2014). This means that although the data compared e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes under the same parameters, it needs to be realized that e-cigarettes are used four times as often during the day for the average user when compared to that of a cigarette smoker. Another drawback was the sample size because although they completed the study several times it was only conducted on two patients’ cells both who were older and already had lung problems. Lastly, a drawback to this experiment was the percent nicotine used in the study. The highest percent nicotine was 2.4% which is the standard nicotine percent sold in Europe. In America the standard percentage is 5% (Hunt 2019). This creates a discrepancy between the application of the results in each continent.


In conclusion, this study was very successful at identifying a significant health difference between vaping and cigarette smoking. Although the study had few uncontrolled factors and was repeated several times, the study should continue to be replicated specifically with larger and healthier sample sizes, and with manner of use taken into account. Nevertheless, this study has laid a solid foundation in the field or research around vaping and provides other scientists with reliable data which they can continue to expand upon. The significance and larger implications of this study should not be understated. It found strong evidence showing that negative side effects do exist with vaping. This will hopefully be enough evidence to encourage younger audiences to quit vaping since many are not aware it is causing their lungs to age at a much faster rate. Also, this evidence will hopefully encourage older cigarette users to switch to e-cigarettes instead. Unfortunately, most older nicotine users are addicted and cannot quit, but by switching to e-cigarettes, as proven by this article, it is in fact healthier, hopefully adding years to their lives. Lastly, this study confirms not enough is known about vaping and the ingredients in e-cigarette solutions encouraging further research and extra precaution with e-cigarette use.




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