What E-Cigarettes Really Do to Your Lungs

Date: August 20, 2015      Publication: Bottom Line Health      Source: Indiana University School of Medicine       Print:

Let’s face it—debates over e-cigarettes won’t be over anytime soon. Users (and, of course, manufacturers) say that they are safer than “real” cigarettes and they help people quit smoking. And unlike the treasure trove of damning health evidence about “real” cigarettes—the latest even adds schizophrenia to the list—research about the health effects of electronic cigarettes is truly in its infancy.

But don’t let that fool you, because one thing is becoming clear—inhaling nicotine…along with the other compounds in e-cigarettes such as formaldehyde…is far from harmless for your lungs. We’ve already told you that vaping (inhaling the vapor) causes temporary constriction in the lungs and that the vapor contains carcinogenic nitrosamines, which newer research has confirmed.

The latest news: Researchers have shown that vaping may damage the cell barrier that protects the lining of the lungs, called the endothelium. In the study, the researchers exposed human and mouse cells and live mice to an e-cigarette solution that either contained nicotine or was nicotine-free. The result with either solution was not only loss of the endothelial cell barrier, but also lung inflammation and an impairment of cell growth, a sign of cell stress. It’s just a short-term lab study, to be sure, but if sustained, that kind of damage is associated with risk for lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


Note that it wasn’t just the nicotine that caused harm in the study, either. Even the nicotine-free e-cigarette solutions were found to include lung-harming substances, such as the compound acrolein. This substance, which is present in e-cig vapor, damages the endothelial cells in the lungs.


Such short-term lung damage might be acceptable if we knew that e-cigs help people quit smoking. Some studies have found that they do…others have found they are no help at all.

To be fair, there’s no question that vaping is less harmful than inhaling cigarette smoke, which is one of the most toxic substances that humans have ever come to use regularly. Even the biggest opponents of e-cigarettes acknowledge that. So if you switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping e-cigarettes, you’re likely doing less harm to your lungs. If doing so helps you quit entirely, that’s a win-win. (For the best ways to quit, see Bottom Line’s Quit Smoking: 14 Ways That Really Work.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking that vaping is a safe alternative to tobacco. It harms you. And if your children or grandchildren who don’t smoke cigarettes think that vaping is a cool and safe habit to pick up, let them know that they’re playing with addictive electronic fire.


Source: Study titled “Endothelial disruptive proinflammatory effects of nicotine and e-cigarette vapor exposures” by researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana University-Purdue University and Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center, all in Indianapolis, and The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and City University of New York, published in American Journal of Physiology—Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology.

  • Christopher

    The government getting involved in yet another thing we do.. Sheep sheep sheep.. The US government is a multibillion dollar corporation that loves taxing people on items like cigs, making way too many things we do illegal and fining people for breaking the law. I believe in Anarchy! Where you have a right to know the facts and live the way you want. That belief kind of goes along with the world. We have taco bell workers, those happy sweeping a floor for a living, doctors, lawyers, etc. With that being said, you should have the right to shoot heroin, smoke crack, vape, do whatever you want. There will always be those who Fuck up their lives and those who want the best for themselves. “The law of average”. Making cigs illegal would only open up a huge black market for them and the government would have to work 1000 times harder to fine people. They make far too much money just taxing each box at the store! When are a lot of people in the world going to realize, the government doesn’t make things illegal because they care about you? They create laws and taxes because they look at statistics of what people do and they see dollar signs. The government has their eyes on your LinkedIn accounts, Facebook accounts and just about anything you post online. Now for the vaping part.. I smoked for 23 years. I’m 35 years old and quit smoking cigarettes 19 days ago. I’ve been vaping every day. Since I Quit smoking, my chest stopped hurting, my coughing has minimized by about 70%, I No longer weez at night, I’m no longer out of breath climbing one flight of stairs to my apartment or by broadcasting on the radio. I wanted to quit smoking for good and do something a lot safer to break the habit. Although I’m not a scientist, it is common sense to know vaping is better for you than to smoke tobacco and burning paper. For one, you no longer have tar sticking to your lungs like glue, trapping in all of the dangerous chemicals. Two, you are not “smoking”. Although I feel great after vaping instead of smoking for 19 straight days, I don’t plan to vape very long. To all the sheep, open your eyes and realize that the tobacco companies are pissed off!! They are losing thousands of smokers every month because vaping has become quite the stink free trend! It’s attractive to females! When you kiss someone who vapes, you don’t feel like you are kissing an ash tray! For revenge, the tobacco companies are spending millions on shutting down independently owned vapor shops for good. And wouldn’t you if you were the heartless devil? Wouldn’t you be more interested in making billions to kill people? As some say, “nothing lasts forever”. We have watched trends and businesses come to an end because people have lost interest. I think it’s time the ciggarette companies(Especially Philip Moris) lose! Not because of the law though… Because everyone stopped smoking and either started vaping or just quit all together. The tobacco companies have made billions killing millions! Don’t you think it’s about time for their karma to kick in? Until I see some strong evidence proving vapors to be terribly dangerous, I’m gonna go by the way I feel and say it’s a much safer alternative to smoking. Last thing.. Some people are allergic to vapors.. Just like being allergic to anything else….this means some people will report feeling worse after vaping.

  • Christopher

    I just read your post after I wrote mine. I like you! Sounds like you and I are on a similar page. I hate sheep!! I respect those who have minds of their own and speak intelligently, people like you!

  • levi

    I couldn’t have said that better myself good job!

  • Emre Yazgin

    Very biased article. How can you say something is “CONFIRMED” when actually the study you are citing says exactly this:

    We included 76 studies investigating content of fluid/vapor of ECs, reports on adverse events and human and animal experimental studies. Serious methodological problems were identified. In 34% of the articles the authors had a conflict of interest. Studies found fine/ultrafine particles, harmful metals, carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines, volatile organic compounds, carcinogenic carbonyls (some in high but most in low/trace concentrations), cytotoxicity and changed gene expression. Of special concern are compounds not found in conventional cigarettes, e.g. propylene glycol. Experimental studies found increased airway resistance after short-term exposure. Reports on short-term adverse events were often flawed by selection bias.”

    • Bob Barnett

      Emre Yazgin:

      Thank you for your comment. This is indeed a complex topic, with less-than-conclusive research. We’re a little confused about the quotation you posted, however, since it appears to come from a literature review or a meta-analysis. This particular story is based on an experimental lab study that looked at possible mechanisms of harm from e-cigarettes. (You can find the study abstract here:

      We added this caveat, “It’s just a short-term lab study, to be sure, but if sustained, that kind of damage is associated with risk for lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” But we also say “To be fair, there’s no question that vaping is less harmful than inhaling cigarette smoke…”

      You may also be interested in a more recent article that we published, “Are E-Cigarettes Ever a Good Idea?”, which features a public health expert with a somewhat controversial view that e-cigarettes have an important role to play in reducing harm in current smokers, even if they aren’t able to quit:

      We will continue to follow the scientific debate on this topic, with an eye toward information that our readers may find useful.


      Bob Barnett,
      Editor, Bottom Line/Health Insider

      • dansus

        Read the Cancer Research UK report, its the most comprehensive to date. None of the issues in the article correspond with their results.

  • Sharon Hall

    If you find science disturbing, you might also believe that the moon walks were produced in Hollywood and that climate change is a falsehood.

  • H Benavente

    Hmm, what vape juices are they studying? Cuz the ones I’m using, are just 30/70% pg-vg, flavoring (natural) and whatever nic level I choose. Currently I’m on 6nic. I’ve talked to the chemist that makes my juice and the nic is really the only nasty thing on y my juices. So compared to cigs, which contain overv4000 nasty ingredients, I’m thinking vape juice is 95% better!!

    • Justin Thought

      Of course, keeping in mind that you can find a “scientific study” crafted to support any contention you would care to make. Where the rubber meets the road for me is, I’ve been vaping for over a year and a half, and from the first day I picked up my electronic cigarette, I haven’t touched a tube of tobacco. Now, I can smell and taste things that I never smelled or tasted before. My lung capacity has greatly increased, and that first half-hour I used to spend in the morning hacking the crap out of my lungs has gone away. So if they come up with a thousand studies (probably funded by the tobacco industry, you suppose?) that say e-cigs are bad for you, I’ll just blow a little vapor in their faces and move on. Maybe it’s bad, but it’s not even close to the habit that I have maintained for a half century and have never been able to stop–before.

  • Leonard Janetzke

    What can we do to change the FDA so that things they approve, will actually be BENEFICIAL to our health instead of leading us to an earlier grave?

  • Qorax

    Nonsense article. Seems like a paid shill of BP/BT. Yes, nothing is 100% safe, but it is about “relative risk” and not about being ‘risk-free’. Vaping is a savior for millions of us (longtime smokers) and our testimonies over the forums (ECF, AVF, C9V, PofV etc.) demonstrates our success. For quitting, as well as continuing to remain healthier. Vaping saves lives! And it is not us – but scientific studies prove that. Check out the UCL research (funded by Cancer Research UK) report ~ Vaping is 97% SAFER. Period. Articles like these are vilifying an otherwise splendid tool towards Tobacco Harm Reduction. Talking nonsense devoid of facts.