U.S. ‘calf lung’ study shows vaping does not damage lung surfactant

U.S. scientists from Ohio University have released a new vaping study which further proves that vaping does not cause nearly as much lung damage as smoking.  Led by Rebecca Przybyla, the researchers focused on the measurable respiratory toxicities as applied to the lung surfactant functions. 

Lung surfactant is the scientific term for the thin layer of lining covering the insides of the lungs.  This filmy substance protects the lungs by limiting the possible surface tension caused by the alveolar fluid.  Without this surfactant, normal, everyday breathing would be much more difficult, even for the healthiest of people.  Without lung surfactant lining, ailments such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis would be downright deadly.

Overview of the Ohio University vaping study

The study entitled Electronic cigarette vapor alters the lateral structure but not tensiometric properties of calf lung surfactant is published on the BMC Respiratory Research website.  Using the calf lungs as a model for the human variety, the scientists spread the related lung surfactant across a device called a Langmuir trough.  They then subjected the surfactant to a series of tests involving both e-cig vapor and the second-hand smoke from combustible cigarettes while measuring the resulting surface tensions.   

In previous studies in this area of research, most have concluded that vaping is far less toxic than smoking, but their authors usually suggest that results will vary depending on the vaping device and flavorings of the e-liquid.  Due to the small size of e-cig vapor particles, most of these studies also confirm that e-cigarette vapor does indeed reach very deeply into the lungs, similar to that of conventional cigarette smoke.

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In the Ohio University study, the findings suggest that e-cig vapor has no negative effects on the surfactant’s abilities to reduce surface tension in the lungs – regardless of the e-liquids’ flavorings.  Furthermore, the scientists also claim that the anti-tobacco community may be looking in the wrong direction when it comes to vaping vs. smoking.

According to the report, vape flavorings do not cause damage to lung surfactant.  It’s the tar in conventional cigarettes that does.  And e-cig vapor, regardless of its flavors or nicotine concentrations, is tar-free.

“E-cigarette vapor regardless of the dose and flavoring of the e-liquid did not affect surfactant interfacial properties. In contrast, smoke from conventional cigarettes had a drastic, dose-dependent effect on Infasurf®interfacial properties reducing the maximum surface pressure from 65.1 ± 0.2 mN/m to 46.1 ± 1.3 mN/m at the highest dose. Cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapor both altered surfactant microstructure resulting in an increase in the area of lipid multilayers. Studies with individual smoke components revealed that tar was the smoke component most disruptive to surfactant function.”

While the findings confirm that vaping does not cause lung damage to any significant degree, even when measured at microscopic levels, the Ohio University team is not ready to make a definitive claim that vaping is 100% safe.  They do suggest that it is far safer than smoking, but they are also curious as to whether vaping inhibits the lung’s ability to produce the lifesaving surfactant.  This area will be their next focus in upcoming research projects. 

The findings published in the Ohio University study are also supported by previous research published in mid-2017 by scientists from the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Catania, Italy. The vaping study shows “no deterioration in lung health” even after 3.5 years of daily vaping.  It’s considered the first longitudinal study of its kind regarding vaping and respiratory disorders. Led by Dr. Riccardo Polosa, the findings of the Polosa study entitled Health impact of E-cigarettes: a prospective 3.5-year study of regular daily users who have never smoked are located in the medical journal Nature.

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