Study: Vaping causes more inflammation in lungs than regular cigarettes

According to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania, people who vape are more at risk of lung inflammation than if they had smoked normal cigarettes.

According to the study, published on Jan. 1, in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, researchers found significantly more inflammation in the lungs of people who used e-cigarettes than people who smoke regular cigarettes and non-smokers.

'We find evidence that [e-cigarette] use causes a unique inflammatory response in the lungs,' researchers wrote in the study. 

Researchers say people who vape are met with a unique set of risk factors setting them apart from regular cigarette smokers. Study authors warn that vaping in particular can "cause pulmonary inflammation and increase the risk of lung disease." 

It’s the first study of its kind to provide evidence that vaping e-liquids creates a unique and detrimental response in the body that is not as prominent in regular cigarette smokers. 

Isn't vaping supposed to be better than cigarettes? 

E-cigarettes first appeared in the U.S. more than a decade ago with the promise of providing smokers a less harmful alternative. The devices heat a nicotine solution into a vapor that’s inhaled, bypassing many of the toxic chemicals produced by burning tobacco.

But studies have reached conflicting results about whether they truly help smokers quit. And efforts by the FDA to rule on vaping products and their claims were repeatedly slowed by industry lobbying and competing political interests.

The vaping market grew to include hundreds of companies selling an array of devices and nicotine solutions in various flavors and strengths.

The vaping issue took on new urgency in 2018 when Juul’s high-nicotine, fruity-flavored cartridges quickly became a nationwide craze among middle and high school students. The company faces a slew of federal and state investigations into its early marketing practices, which included distributing free Juul products at concerts and parties hosted by young influencers.

In 2019, the company was pressured into halting all advertising and eliminating its fruit and dessert flavors. The next year, the FDA limited flavors in small vaping devices to just tobacco and menthol. Separately, Congress raised the purchase age for all tobacco and vaping products to 21.

But the question of whether e-cigarettes should remain on the market at all remained.

FDA regulators warned companies for years they would have to submit rigorous, long-term data showing a clear benefit for smokers who switch to vaping. But all but the largest e-cigarette manufacturers have resisted conducting that kind of expensive, time-consuming research.

While Juul remains a top seller, a recent federal survey shows that teen have been shifting away from the company. Last year's survey showed Juul was the fourth most popular e-cigarette among high schoolers who regularly vape. The most popular brand was a disposable e-cigarette called Puff Bar that comes in flavors like pink lemonade, strawberry and mango. That company's disposable e-cigarettes had been able to skirt regulation because they use synthetic nicotine, which until recently was outside the FDA's jurisdiction. Congress recently closed that loophole.

Overall, the survey showed a drop of nearly 40% in the teen vaping rate as many kids were forced to learn from home during the pandemic. Still, federal officials cautioned about interpreting the results given they were collected online for the first time, instead of in classrooms.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.