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On December 16th the American Journal of Preventive Medicine released preliminary research on the long term effects of vaping, or at least that’s what some cannabis sites called it. In reality, the journal published findings from a three-year study investigating the link between respiratory disease and e-cigarette use

Vape popularity has been building momentum as technology and marketing improves. In 2018 there were an estimated 41 million vape users globally. E-cigarette companies like JUUL boast being a safer means of nicotine consumption compared to tobacco combustion, contributing to this increase in popularity. Consumers and medical professionals want evidence to support or disprove these claims, but what do the findings of this “long term” study really indicate? 

Smoking and lung disease

In the study, 32,000 adults were interviewed in 2013, and again in 2016. Researchers asked about their history of respiratory disease. This broad category included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or asthma. If they did not report any of these respiratory diseases, they were included in the study as healthy. One and two years following the initial questioning, researchers collected lung disease data. They then statistically evaluated participants’ use of nicotine vapes, traditional cigarette use, and their incidence of respiratory disease. 

Breaking Down The First Long Term Study on Vaping & Health
Photo by Robina Weermeijer 

What they found was that participants were 30 percent more likely to report respiratory disease if they used vaporizers. However, participants who smoked traditional cigarettes had 250 percent greater respiratory disease incidence. Seemingly suggesting that vaporizer use is safer than cigarette use. The caveat, however, is that the majority of e-cigarette users also smoked traditional combustible cigarettes, thus exposing their lungs to two different sets of toxins rather than one. Dual-use resulted in a 330 percent greater incidence of lung disease. E-cigarette users were additionally less likely to quit smoking than traditional cigarette users.

What this means for the cannabis community

This study only examined the effects of vaping and combusting nicotine products. What can the cannabis community learn from this investigation? We don’t know if compounds found in cannabis products, combusted or vaporized, have a different effect on long-term lung disease outcomes than those of nicotine.

Based on these findings, however, we can speculate that exposing your lungs to two different forms of inhalant will increase your chances of developing a lung disease much like cigarette users in the study. Further, we can speculate that sticking to only vaping would be safer for your lung health compared to smoking joints or blunts. That being said, there are numerous limitations to the study worth noting.

Study Limitations

As mindful consumers of information, we must remember the limitations of this study before we draw any substantial conclusions. One such limitation, recall bias, is the error that occurs from people incompletely remembering or miss-remembering their experiences. It’s very likely that participants in the study had a hard time remembering what they were diagnosed with, or when they were diagnosed. 

This study struggled to define user versus non-user. “Respondents who ever used an e-cigarette, ever used fairly regularly, and currently used every day or some days were considered current users.” So even if you don’t use an e-cig anymore, you’re a user? They also failed to categorize use. Participants who vaped or smoked once a week were grouped with participants who smoked a pack or a cartridge every day. The study used insufficient means to separate them. 

Breaking Down The First Long Term Study on Vaping and Health
Photo by Ray Reyes

The study also failed to detail how they recruited participants. How did a person get involved in the study? Were they friends of the researchers? Were they participating in campaigns to stop smoking? Did they all live in one city? Convenience sampling; picking the most accessible participants for your study, is perceived as the weakest form of sampling. Studies show education level decreases e-cigarette use. Was recruitment done on a college campus? It’s possible that researchers didn’t tell us how they got participants, because they didn’t want us to notice their oversights. 

Finally, there is no scientific definition of “long term” for the study’s duration. Depending on what you are studying, two years may be a long time. Considering a smoker’s life expectancy is typically 68 years in the US, this “long term” study only covered 3% of their lifetime. The research has to start somewhere, but calling this a long term study seems like a stretch. 

Be A Mindful Consumer of Information

Try reading the study for yourself, and come to your own conclusions. You can also email the head researcher on the study, Dr. Glantz, for clarity or for the raw data. Be sure to check back for updates, maybe we will see Dr. Glantz in the comment section. 

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