Vaping may increase risk of respiratory disease by 40 per cent

While often considered safer than smoking, vaping increases the risk of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

Monika Warzecha 3 minute read November 13, 2020
Vaping study

The study looked at e-cigarette data from five years worth of national surveys. Getty

A new study from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) is sounding the alarm on the possible long-term effects of e-cigarettes.

Researchers analyzed the data of 21,618 adults in the U.S.-wide Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health survey from 2013 to 2018. The participants had no self-reported respiratory issues and the scientists adjusted for a variety of variables including age, marijuana use and secondhand smoke exposure. The analysis was also restricted to adults who never smoked cigarettes or used tobacco products such as hookahs, cigars, cigarillos and smokeless tobacco.

The results, published in the JAMA Network Open, suggests individuals who vaped or used e-cigarettes in the past were 21 per cent more likely to develop a respiratory disease. Those who were currently e-cigarette users saw a 43 per cent increased risk. In fact, this group saw a 33 per cent increase in chronic bronchitis risk, 69 per cent increase in emphysema risk, 57 per cent increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) risk, and 31 per cent percent increase in asthma risk.

Dr. Andrew Stokes, assistant professor of global health at BUSPH, says the study offers some of the very first longitudinal evidence that vaping can have a serious impact on the respiratory system.

“In recent years, we have seen dramatic increase in e-cigarette use among youth and young adults which threatens to reverse decades of hard-fought gains,” he says. “This new evidence also suggests that we may see an increase in respiratory disease as youth and young adults age into midlife, including asthma, COPD, and other respiratory conditions.”

In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control investigated a national outbreak of more than 2,800 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI). The cases were linked to products that contained tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Vitamin E acetate, an additive or cutting agent, and were often acquired through dealers or informal sources.

The study offers some of the very first longitudinal evidence that vaping can have a serious impact on the respiratory system

Health Canada says that most cases of vaping-associated lung illness in Canada don’t appear to be linked to THC-containing products. “The cause or causes of cases in Canada is still under investigation,” the agency says. “Canadians concerned about the health risks related to vaping should consider refraining from using vaping products. Youth, persons who are pregnant, and those who do not currently vape should not vape.”

Part of the reason behind the appeal of vaping is that its seen as less harmful than traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes are also often used by people trying to quit smoking.

Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, says there is “almost no doubt that [e-cigarettes] expose you to fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes.”

However, “people need to understand that e-cigarettes are potentially dangerous to your health … You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”

Monika Warzecha is the Home Page Editor at

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