The illusion that vaping is a healthy alternative to smoking is deteriorating more and more each day, as a growing body of research continues to shed light on some of the more toxic chemicals and byproducts found in e-cigarettes. Coupled with the explosion of e-cigarette use among teenagers, the vaping crisis is starting to reach a new fever pitch.
Recent studies by researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health have found most e-cigarettes contain a microbial toxin called “glucan.” A chemical component of fungal cell walls, glucan is known to cause respiratory inflammation and can lead to serious lung damage over time.
Harvard Study Finds Worrying New Data on JUUL Pods
In April of last year, researchers found more than 80% of e-cigarettes of no particular brand contained glucan. Levels were highest in tobacco and menthol products. More recently, those same researchers analyzed a set of JUUL pods and found nearly half of them to be contaminated with glucan.
Study author David C. Christiani, a professor of environmental genetics at Harvard Medical School, explained to Yahoo! News how dangerous glucan can be to human health:
“We see in certain occupational environments such as textiles, soil, and plywood [that glucan] causes inflammation in the lungs. That’s why we looked at it because these occupational papers have been out for over 20 years.”
Christiani and his team were inspired to study JUUL pods after vaping industry advocates criticized the first study from last year. That study, which found 80% of the 75 analyzed e-cigarettes tested positive for glucan, did not include many modern e-cigarettes such as JUUL pods.
AVA Questions Original Data, Sparking New Study
The American Vaping Association (AVA) highlighted that point in a publicized rebuke, telling the Boston Globe that the data was based on products from 6 years ago:
“Bacteria and other toxins are found in traditional cigarettes, almost assuredly at much higher levels than found in this study. With many adult smokers now mistakenly believing that vaping could be as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, it is disgraceful to release this study without an adequate comparison to cigarettes.”
Ceding the point, the Harvard researchers decided to follow up that study by analyzing JUUL pods in particular. The results, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, showed elevated levels of glucan: 46% of 54 different JUUL pods studied tested positive for the respiratory toxin.
Together, these two studies show how the lack of research into the health effects of vaping has distorted public perceptions. It may be true that cigarettes are, on the whole, more harmful than e-cigarettes, but the disparity in credible scientific research only services the vaping industry, which relies on ignorance to sell its product in lieu of traditional tobacco products.
“There needs to be much stronger regulation of the production and purity of the compounds used in e-cigarettes,” Christiani told NBC News last year. “People should not assume that e-cigarettes are safe.”
FDA Enacts Ban
The latest findings come as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalizes a ban on most flavored vaping products. Companies have been ordered to end all manufacture, distribution, and sale of fruit- and mint-flavored e-cigarettes by early February. That move is largely in response to the skyrocketing use of vaping products among teenagers and young adults.
Additionally, President Donald Trump signed a law last month raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Misled by e-cigarette manufacturers for years, people mistakenly assumed vaping was a healthy way to wean off tobacco products because it doesn’t have a lot of the known toxins found in cigarettes — namely, tar, carbon monoxide, and ammonia, among others. But that assumption was born of the old adage: “Ignorance is bliss.” A tactic the industry relied on.
It seems every new product enjoys a certain grace period after it hits the market. Marketers typically use that window to get users hooked. The same is true for the history of cigarettes — not to mention lead, asbestos, and even social media. For e-cigarettes, it seems, the jig is finally up.