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Vaping-related lung damage linked to heating source in e-cigarettes

Study findings suggest that the material used for the heating element may have huge impact on health outcomes

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With more and more consumers affected by vaping-related lung illness -- otherwise known as EVALI -- experts continue to look for risk factors associated with smoking e-cigarettes. While recent studies have pointed to both vitamin E and THC as the primary sources of EVALI, a new study found that the vaping devices themselves could be to blame. 

According to researchers from the University of California at Irvine, the results from the earliest stages of a new study found that the heating source on vaping devices has been linked with an increased risk of lung damage. 

“While further research is needed, these results indicate specific devices and power settings may play a key role in the development of EVALI as much as the additives do,” said researcher Dr. Robert A. Kloner. “The harms associated with e-cigarettes and vaping simply cannot be overstated.” 

Analyzing vaping devices

The researchers didn’t set out to uncover this link between vaping devices’ heating sources and subsequent lung damage; they were initially studying the effect of vaping on consumers’ heart health. However, after the e-cigarette they had been using in their study was discontinued and participants were forced to use a different model, they observed some key differences. 

While the new vaping device was essentially the same as the first one, the heating element was different. The first device used stainless steel as the heating source, and the second device used a nickel-chromium alloy as the heating source. Though that change may not seem like it would make a massive difference, the researchers observed drastic changes to the participants’ health in a short amount of time. 

“Within an hour of beginning an experiment, we observed evidence of severe respiratory distress, including labored breathing, wheezing, and panting,” said researcher Michael Kleinman, PhD. “After analyzing lung tissue from subjects in the study, we found them to be severely compromised and observed other serious changes such as lung lesions, red blood cell congestion, obliteration of alveolar spaces, and pneumonitis in some cases.”  

Despite several studies that have pointed to the additives in e-cigarettes as the primary source of lung damage, the researchers explained that the devices they used contained no nicotine, vitamin E, or THC. The participants had been involved in the study for more than a year when they received the new vaping devices, and none of them had shown any signs of lung illness or similar health concerns up to that point. 

The researchers plan to do more work in this area to better understand how the heating element on vaping devices can be a risk to consumers’ health. However, they hope that consumers take these findings seriously and take steps to prevent severe health concerns. 

“The results were so impactful, we felt it imperative to release the initial findings early so that electronic cigarette users could be cautioned sooner, especially considering e-cigarette users are at an increased risk of COVID-19,” said Dr. Kloner. 

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