Vapor particles of e-cigs are too small to damage lung surfactant, says new study

A large portion of the general public still seems to be confused about the differences between smoking and vaping.  While both actions involve the exhaling of a white, gaseous substance, the similarities basically stop right there.

The primary, highly significant distinction that often goes unnoticed is that combustible tobacco smoke is laced with carcinogenic levels of tar and other chemicals which are hazardous to the health of the smoker as well as to innocent bystanders.  Vaping, on the other hand, is 100% tobacco- and tar-free, and study after study has already proven that second-hand vapor is essentially non-toxic.  In fact, some research suggests that the vaporized propylene glycol of e-liquids acts as a natural antibacterial for the mouth and lungs.


New research conducted by scientists from Ohio University (OU) supports these previous findings while also further indicating that, unlike smoking, vaping does not produce any measurable damage to the lung surfactant of the human body.  What is lung surfactant?  It’s a filmy substance covering the interior of the lungs that absorbs much of the respiratory surface tension caused by the body’s alveolar fluid.  Without this gooey coating, breathing would be much more laborious – even for the healthiest of individuals.   

The Ohio University vaping study

The findings of the OU vaping study are published in the journal BMC Respiratory ResearchThe paper is entitled, Electronic cigarette vapor alters the lateral structure but not tensiometric properties of calf lung surfactant.  To briefly summarize, the scientists began by exposing the lung surfactant of calf lungs to the first- and second-hand smoke of combustible cigarettes compared to the respective equivalents of e-cig vapor.

The surfactant was removed from the calf lungs and spread across a scientific instrument called a Langmuir trough which is useful for measuring the related surface tensions.  The researchers also experimented with various e-liquids of different flavoring profiles.  Meanwhile, all clinic trials were compared to the same tests using normal, everyday air. 

Related Article:  Groundbreaking study shows ‘no deterioration in lung health’ after several years of vaping

While the OU team does validate findings from several previous research studies indicating that vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking, the scientists are also careful to clarify that those levels will vary depending on the vaping device and e-liquid being vaped.  However, they also make clear that the vapor from e-cigarettes contains no tobacco and no tar, which is the real killer.

Furthermore, the researchers also determined that the vapor particles of electronic cigarettes are simply too small (compared to the smoke particles of combustible tobacco cigarettes) to travel too deeply into the lungs.  Therefore, e-cig vapor cannot possibly adversely affect the lung surfactant.

“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.”

Not to put too fine a point on the matter, the OU scientists also note that the flavorings of e-liquids also have no adverse effects on the lungs.  Remember, the primary conclusion of this study is that the vapor particles of e-cigs are so small in diameter that it is virtually impossible for them to travel as deeply into the lung cavity as the smoke from conventional cigarettes.

This data is important because many state and city governments are aggressively trying to enact legislation that bans flavored e-liquids.  San Francisco has already done so, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently entertaining the idea of creating additional deeming regulations that will effectively implement a flavor ban at the national level.  

Related Article:  San Francisco vaping gets a shellacking; Prop E passes & flavor ban goes in effect

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