Research indicates that switching to vaping may reverse asthma damage

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was expressing concerns that smoking and vaping may exacerbate the associated symptoms of the virus. However, in a strange twist of fate, the FDA began backtracking last week on these claims as they pertain to vapor products specifically.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, agency officials said that there is no evidence that vaping causes increased risks to contracting the COVID-19 virus.  However, smokers should still be extremely cautious.  "E-cigarette use can expose the lungs to toxic chemicals, but whether those exposures increase the risk of COVID-19 is not known," said FDA spokeswoman Alison Hunt said. “Cigarette smoking causes heart and lung diseases, suppresses the immune system, and increases the risk of respiratory infections…People who smoke cigarettes may be at increased risk from Covid-19 and may have worse outcomes from Covid-19.”

The coronavirus is a disease of the respiratory system.  If the FDA is now admitting that vaping does not increase the odds of contracting the virus, can patients of other respiratory disorders like asthma gain significant health benefits by switching to vaping from smoking? This theory is precisely what a group of Italian scientists wanted to learn.   

University of Catalina study on vaping and asthma


A fundamental assumption among many scientists and academics over the past few years has been that any type of product that is inhaled into the lungs  - be it combustible tobacco, flavored e-liquids, or marijuana - can exacerbate the symptoms of any respiratory condition.  These assertions have been made against chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchitis, and of course asthma.   But in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, many researchers are beginning to take a second look at their previous scientific theories.

For example, one study published last year by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) suggested that COPD and asthma sufferers should avoid vaping altogether, even if those patients are using the vapor products as a tobacco harm reduction too.  Unfortunately, the researchers involved in the clinical trial failed to consider individual histories of tobacco use when selecting their participants for the study.

Related Article:  In stunning reversal, FDA admits no evidence that vaping increases COVID-19 risks

This significant miscalculation led to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) to lambast the JHU study as “junk science” on Facebook and other social media platforms.   

“VAPE JUNK SCIENCE: Cross-sectional data can't show causation. Smoking and asthma were self-reported (very unreliable.) Most importantly, authors DON'T KNOW if subjects had asthma BEFORE they [started] vaping! The GOOD NEWS being ignored by authors and media is that just 0.8% never-smokers vaped!”

CASAA was not alone.  Numerous scientists around the world were publicly skeptical of the JHU study results, and many began conducting studies of their own to either confirm or debunk the JHU results.  Luckily, a group of Italian researchers had already conducted a study of its own using the proper scientific protocols.

Led by Dr. Riccardo Polosa of the University of Catalina, the researchers began with a small group of eighteen participants, each of whom had prior histories of combustible tobacco daily use.  They each had long histories of asthma, too.  Zero of the participants had ever vaped prior to engaging in the clinical trial.

The Italians asked the participants to switch from smoking to vaping.  In the beginning stages of the two-year study, participants were given identical e-liquids and vaping devices.  Over the course of the project, the researchers would monitor and compare multiple biomarkers of each asthmatic participant, including but not limited to the following.

      • Comparative daily rates of smoking vs. vaping
      • Forced vital capacity (FVC)
      • Forced Expiratory Flow (FEF) 25-50-75
      • Peak Expiratory Flow rates (PEF)
      • Asthma exacerbation rates
      • Airway responsivity rates
      • Asthma attacks rates
      • Overall breathing and respiratory functions
      • Progression and regression rates of respiratory functions over time.

The researchers collected, analyzed, and compared the related data every six months, at which time each participant was also asked to complete a lengthy questionnaire.  The questionnaire allowed the researchers to identify very specific changes in each patient’s daily routines for asthma management over the course of the project. 

Asthma study’s comparisons of smoking, vaping, and dual use

The University of Catalina ‘s peer-reviewed research is entitled Persisting long term benefits of smoking abstinence and reduction in asthmatic smokers who have switched to electronic cigarettes (Discovery Medicine).  Of the original eighteen participants, fourteen transitioned to vaping completely.  Two individuals remained daily smokers of combustible tobacco, and two fell in the category of dual users. All eighteen people remained in the study, which allowed the scientists to compare and contrast progress or regression of the asthma disorder across a broader spectrum of asthmatics. 

Related Article:   NYU study rebukes recurring political myth that vaping is as deadly as smoking

The researchers discovered that the vaping-only group experienced the most significant improvements in asthmatic symptoms and reductions in asthmatic attacks compared to the dual users.  Sadly, the smoking group saw their disease digress to more severe stages of development.

“The present study confirms that regular EC use ameliorates objective and subjective disease outcomes in asthma and shows that these beneficial effects may persist in the long term. Large controlled studies are now warranted to elucidate the emerging role of the e-vapor category for smoking cessation and/or reversal of harm in asthma patients who smoke. Nonetheless, the notion that substitution of conventional cigarettes with EC is unlikely to raise significant respiratory concerns, can improve counseling between physicians and their asthmatic patients who are using or intend to use ECs.”

If the study’s results are accurate, then asthmatic smokers who make the switch to vaping may be able to reverse the asthma-associated lung damage and live a longer and happier life.  However, in the conclusion section of the paper, the co-authors also note that the small sample size of the project is not sufficient for determining conclusive results.  More studies with larger control groups are needed. 

But the FDA’s recent reversal on the alleged negative health risks of vaping amid the coronavirus outbreak is certainly a positive sign that at least some American scientists are finally beginning to publicly acknowledge the vast differences between smoking and vaping.

Related Article:   New study shows vaping more effective to quit smoking than counselling

(Images courtesy of Shutterstock)

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