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Vapers and smokers are both at risk for emphysema

A hand holds an e-cigarette surrounded by smoke.

Sept. 9, 2019—Is vaping a healthier alternative to smoking? Some researchers have suggested cigarette smokers should switch to electronic cigarettes because they may be less harmful. However, a recent study suggests that vaping may not be a safer option after all.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that people who vape may be at risk for emphysema, just like smokers. Emphysema is a serious lung disease that causes increasing shortness of breath over time. There is no cure.

The study measured the lung fluids of 41 people, including nonsmokers, smokers and vapers. Both smokers and vapers had higher levels of certain enzymes that are thought to cause emphysema. These enzymes damage the tiny air sacs in the lungs that let people breathe.

What's the common thread? Cigarettes and vaping liquids both contain nicotine. And researchers found evidence that nicotine in vaping liquids is to blame for the enzyme damage in the lungs.

Because vaping is relatively new, the long-term health effects are still not known. Time will tell how vaping affects the risk of getting cancer, for instance. Still, this study suggests the dangers may currently be underestimated. Researchers plan to follow up this study with a larger one with hundreds of participants.

The study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

How much do you know about e-cigarettes? Take our quiz.

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