Over the last few months there have been multiple media reports of a “mysterious” lung disease caused by vaping. At the time of this writing at least seven deaths have been attributed to vaping. The medical community is mobilizing quickly to learn what we can about this new illness and try to learn how to effectively treat it.

It may very well turn out to be a rare form of non-infectious pneumonia known as lipoid pneumonia; it may turn out to be a new manifestation of a previously known lung disease; or it may turn out to be a new lung disease associated with vaping. It does appear to be fatal and to-date has no specific known treatment. The best way to treat this disease is to not get it in the first place.

Vaping is the process of inhaling nicotine mixed with flavoring agents in a propylene and/or glycol delivery vehicle known as an e-cigarette. To-date, chemicals found in e-cigarettes include toxic metals, volatile organic acids, nitrosamines, propylene glycol, inorganic chemicals and nicotine.

Even before the most recent reports of vaping-related lung illness, vaping has been associated with diseases including eosinophilic pneumonia, organizing pneumonia, pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung) and respiratory bronchiolitis.

Vaping is often promoted as a tool to help smokers quit tobacco, and some groups such as Public Health England claim that vaping is safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, the evidence to support that claim is lacking.

We know how risky smoking tobacco is because we have been studying the effects of it for over 50 years. It will likely take many years, possibly up to a generation, of study to learn all the things vaping does to the human body and all the harm it may cause. The claim that vaping is safer than tobacco smoking is dangerous in that there is essentially no data to support it, and it is more reflective of how dangerous tobacco smoke is than how safe vaping is.

With several illnesses associated with vaping, and now multiple deaths attributed to vaping, the best protection against vaping-related lung disease is not to vape at all.

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Dr. Zach Reagle is a Board Certified Pulmonologist, and can be reached at (805) 543-4407.