BY: STEFANIE AWRONSKI
In recent years laws against public smoking of traditional nicotine and tobacco cigarettes have become a lot stricter. We have been told time after time how bad cigarettes are for our health and how highly addictive they are. It has seemed that as of late a new hero had emerged as a healthier, less addictive and trendier alternative to traditional cigarette smoking – e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are basically battery-operated devices in the form of chambers that contain liquids (that may or may not contain nicotine and be flavoured) and when heated produce a vapour that is then smoked and inhaled. They have been on the market since 2004 in China. E-cigarettes have been touted as an amazing alternative to traditional smoking; since they don’t contain tobacco, their e-liquid cartridges contain way less nicotine and are therefore less addictive, and do not contain harmful carcinogenic elements like arsenic and tar – things that normal cigarettes are loaded with. So are e-cigarettes therefore a healthy alternative? Are they actually healthier than cigarettes?
This past February a new study by the University of North Carolina conducted by Iona Jaspers, professor of pediatrics and director of the curriculum in toxicology, is suggesting that e-cigarettes are not as safe and friendly as they appear. The study is suggesting that the use of e-cigarettes suppresses our immune systems. The information collected from the study was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Jaspers’ team examined tissue samples from within the nasal cavities of cigarette smokers, e-cigarette smokers and finally non-smokers. The team was closely looking at the health of the nasal cavity’s epithelial cells, which is a common tissue found all over our bodies. Within those cells over 600 genes that are found in our immune systems were analyzed. Blood, nasal fluid and urine were additionally taken from the test subjects and analyzed.
Tobacco cigarettes were found not surprisingly to suppress key immune system-related genes. E- cigarettes were found to suppress those same key immune system related genes and were also found to suppress hundreds of additional immune system genes. Oddly the e-cigarettes that contained cinnamon flavouring were found to be the worst, as they immensely hamper immune cells in the nose. Several kinds of white blood cells that target infections and tumors were significantly hampered in operating normally by the cinnamon flavoured vapours. Jasper surmised that the hampering of normal function in the nasal cavity could lead to faulty immune functions in the lungs. This finding does however need to be further researched.
The hits against the anti tobacco brigade’s official sweetheart keep coming. Judith Zelikoff of NYU Langone Medical Center examined pre and post natal exposure of mice to e-cigarette vapours with and without nicotine. She found changes to the mice’s frontal cortex gene expression, which is commonly linked to mental health issues, including schizophrenia. Oddly enough e-cigarettes without nicotine showed more gene expression changes than those with nicotine.
Zelikoff states, “Because of the concept that e-cigarettes are safer than commonly used cigarettes, you may have pregnant women—and the data shows this—taking e-cigarettes during pregnancy so as not to smoke, because the risk factors and the dangers of smoking cigarettes while pregnant are well-known. That’s a frightening possibility, given the findings that are emerging.”