Vaping & Lung Cancer

/ 4 min read
Vaping & Lung Cancer

The relationship between vaping and health remains a tricky one to draw solid conclusions about. There are lots of theories about the way vaping can impact our bodies and while studies are underway, long-term data is still thin on the ground.

One of the biggest challenges facing experts is that almost all vaping studies to-date rely on current vapers, who are almost exclusively ex-smokers. This has presented challenges when assessing long-term health implications, as it is difficult to know if a condition has been brought about because of the person’s vaping habit, or their previous smoking habit.

This is especially true of cancer, which we have explored in our blogs. There have been conflicting reports about vaping’s potential to cause cancer, exploring its impact on many different types. Lung cancer in particular however has long been associated with inhaling smoke from cigarettes, but how does vaping compare?

Vaping & Lung cancer

There have been claims made that the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in e-cigarette vapour can cause cancer, however this is not as cut-and-dried as it appears at first glance. It is true that vaping, smoking, and indeed inhaling anything other than air can expose our lungs to materials that could cause a reaction.

Popcorn Lung

Some of the biggest examples of this in relation to vaping have been linked to ingredients within the flavourings used in their manufacture. The most widely-know of these is likely the popcorn lung scandal, which saw vaping receive a lot of negative press because of diacetyl, a compound designed to make things taste buttery and rich.

This compound was reportedly linked to “bronchitis obliterans” aka popcorn lung, a condition which causes damage to the inside of your lungs. Diacetyl was used for a short time in the UK before being banned in vaping products when TPD and TRPR regulations kicked in, and companies like ours had even stopped its use before this point.

America however had not enforced this restriction until much later, leading to journalists making the link between vaping and lung damage, even though for UK residents it had little relevance. It later surfaced that the original health issue had been found in workers at a popcorn factory, who had inhaled dangerous levels of diacetyl, rather than by vaping as it was claimed.

Lung Cancer

Since this time however more studies have been conducted to assess vaping’s potential contribution to lung cancer specifically. The 29th September UK Gov report on vaping however has compiled and assessed these reports and highlights that there is evidence to suggest that vaping could interrupt certain behaviours in our bodies that may lead to cancer, but reminds us that they are in fact triggered by nicotine, which is also delivered by smoking cigarettes.

This tells us that the nicotine is the biggest cause of potential cancer, rather than vaping exclusively. The report goes on to say that vaping actually poses a far lower risk of cancer than smoking by comparison, making it a viable option for tobacco harm reduction.

The data that helped establish vaping’s links to cancer has some flaws beyond those mentioned regarding ex-smokers’ existing damage limiting credibility. The last major studies took place in 2017/18 and have exclusively used animal cells, rather than human. These cells were also exposed to levels of nicotine far higher than even the heaviest vaper is likely to ingest, giving them very limited real-world application.

Until more human studies can be carried out, it will be very hard to say for certain what risk of lung cancer vaping carries.

vaping vs a cigarette - woman holding both, one in each hand

Vaping Vs Cigarettes

As mentioned above, vaping has been highlighted as a less harmful option, a position that is supported by a number of leading authorities on the subject of health. Despite not being risk-free, the 29th September report lined above states that, of the limited human studies available:

“In our review of human studies, biomarkers of exposure to several human carcinogens in tobacco smoke show lower measured levels in people who vape compared with those who smoke. So, the biomarker of exposure studies compiled in this review provide conclusive evidence that vaping generally leads to lower exposure to many of the carcinogens responsible for the health risks of smoking.”

This essentially means that vaping appears to pose less risk than smoking when it comes to cancer. Cancer research UK also states that:

“Some potentially harmful chemicals have been found in e-cigarettes. But levels are usually low and generally far lower than in tobacco cigarettes. There is no good evidence that vaping causes cancer.”

They go on to remind us however that vaping is not risk-free, and that some of the compounds inhaled can cause side effects such as throat and mouth irritation, headaches, coughing and feeling sick, but these side effects tend to reduce over time with continued use. This supports the earliest assessment of vape safety which found it to be 95% less harmful than cigarettes.

The best approach is to only use vaping as a means of tobacco harm reduction. Do not vape if you have never smoked, and always consult your healthcare professional for the best advice and support.

If you have already had that conversation and want to give vaping a try, check out our Switch With EDGE area to find out more about the journey and what you can expect. If you are looking for more advice to help you build a tailored quitting plan, The NHS has plenty of guidance to get you started!

Our Sources:

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/smoking-and-cancer/is-vaping-harmful#:~:text=There%20is%20no%20good%20evidence,over%20time%20with%20continued%20use.

https://www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk/insights/the-truth-about-vaping

https://www.healthline.com/health/lung-cancer/does-vaping-cause-lung-cancer#chemicals-used

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31554628/

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nicotine-vaping-in-england-2022-evidence-update/nicotine-vaping-in-england-2022-evidence-update-main-findings