Many may believe that smoking e-cigarettes is not as dangerous as smoking regular cigarettes. Now, it turns out that vaping electronic cigarettes could also alter the genes involved in airway immune defense.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina Health Care say that this will reduce a smoker’s airway immune resistance. Consequently, smokers will be more prone to developing bacterial infections.

“I was really surprised by these results,” adds lead researcher Ilona Jaspers, UNC’s professor of paediatrics, microbiology and immunology. “That’s why we kept going back to make sure this was accurate.”


Smoking e-cigarette. Credit: Penn State University

The study was published on June 10 in the American Journal of Physiology. It involved investigating 14 regular smokers and 12 e-cigarette smokers.

The participants reported their cigarette use. Together with researchers from the University of California at San Francisco, the team assessed the participants’ urine and blood samples.

The team then analyzed the genes in the participants’ nasal passages. Compared to nonsmokers, the regular cigarette smokers experienced a reduction of gene expression of 53 genes responsible for immune defense.

On the other hand, there was a total of 358 gene reduction in e-cigarette smokers. This included the 53 ones reduced from using regular cigarettes.

“We compared these genes one by one,” adds Jaspers. “And we found that each gene common to both groups was suppressed more in the e-cigarette group. We currently do not know exactly how e-cigarettes do this.”

Still, the team asserts that this does not mean that smoking e-cigarettes is worse than or just as bad as regular cigarettes. Moreover, the long-term health problems cannot yet be determined. Since e-cigarette smoking is new, we cannot say if it causes disease like cancer, emphysema, COPD or others that take years to develop.

“We honestly do not yet know what long-term effects e-cigarettes might have on health,” says Jaspers. “I suspect that the effects of e-cigarettes will not be the same as the effects of cigarette smoking.”

The the team will study how epithelial cells exposed to e-cigarettes react with flu vaccine. This will reveal the exact immune response measurement of epithelial cells in smokers and nonsmokers.