Wyoming Medicinal Chemist Says Vaping Horrible For Health, Causes Long-Term Damage

Although vaping has been touted as safer alternative to smoking, University of Wyoming Medicinal Chemistry Professor Dr. Guanglong He said his recent study looking at what vaping does at the molecular level shows the practice is very dangerous and causes long-term health issues.

Renée Jean

December 15, 20225 min read

Vaping 10 15 22
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Renee Jean 

From his office, University of Wyoming Medicinal Chemistry Professor Dr. Guanglong He often sees students walking by in clouds of vaping smoke as they travel to and from classes. 

With NIH studies pegging vaping-related deaths at 3,000 every year, that was a troubling sight to the researcher, and prompted him to do a study at the molecular level, looking at the mechanisms that cause vaping to be so harmful. 

“Those young kids are innocent,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “They just want to try something new. As a scientist, you know, I think we have a responsibility to pursue science to help.” 

Many Try Vaping To Quit Smoking 

Vaping’s popularity has been rising in recent times, with many touting it as a means to quit smoking.  

Dave Oberg of Gillette told Cowboy State Daily he started vaping as a means to an end, to quit cigarettes. 

“One of my doctors was like, you got to quit smoking, so I did for two years,” he said. “And my blood pressure, heart rate, and weight, and everything else just got worse. And then I went back to smoking and smoked longer.” 

When e-cigarettes came out, Oberg felt he had found a new way to quit cigarettes for good. 

“I tried all different kinds of different vapes,” he said. “And now I don’t crave cigarettes at all any more.” 

He believes his health has improved since switching from cigarettes to vaping, and that it is a less harmful practice than smoking. 

“I just do nicotine, and I actually use a lot of nicotine,” he said. “I quit using caffeine. I always had heart issues or high blood pressure or pulse rate altogether, that kind of stuff, so I gave up caffeine altogether. And even though I use, I mean a ridiculous amount of nicotine, my heart rate is usually in the 70s and my blood pressure is fine. I don’t have any issues with like cardiovascular issues any more.” 

Research Skeptical Vaping Health Benefit Will Hold Up Long-term 

He, meanwhile, is skeptical that these types of anecdotal accounts will hold up long-term. 

“What we found (in our study) is that no matter how a person vapes it, cold or heat, it causes pulmonary and cardiac injury,” he told Cowboy State Daily.  

He’s research used what’s called a pre-clinical model, which refers to studies that use animals to find out how a drug, procedure, or exposure to a toxin is likely to affect humans. 

In this case, He used mice because their pulmonary system is very similar to a human’s, albeit much smaller. 

Mice also have a much shorter lifespan. One mouse year equates to about 10 human years, helping to bring reasonable clinical insights to a potential health problem in a much shorter timeframe.  

He ran his study with the mice for six months to one year, equivalent to about 10 years in human terms, exposing them on a regular basis to vaping aerosols. 

“(Then) we took blood samples (from the mice) and spun them to make plasma,” he said. “We measure the biomarkers in the system, and we took the fluid from the lungs to follow the markers which indicated fibrosis.” 

Fibrosis refers to the development of fibrous connective tissue. It is the lungs response to injury or damage, to try and heal. The scarring, however, causes the lungs to lose elasticity and leads to less efficient transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide. 

Flavors, Additives Can Add To Damage 

He also looked at a variety of flavorings and additives in his vaping study. 

Flavorings have often been used by the tobacco industry to mask the bitter taste of nicotine. Recently, the FDA has prohibited the use of flavorings with vaping liquids, trying to discourage youths from being attracted to vaping. Menthol, however is still very common — and particularly damaging, He said. 

“At the minimum, it is an irritant,” he said. “However, you know, it comes with all these biochemical reactions.” 

Flavors particularly appeal to youths, He said, but they are also chemicals, and once inside the body, can interact with the body’s chemistry in complex ways. 

What’s Next 

He said understanding the mechanisms involved in vaping lung and heart damage will help him in the search for therapeutics that can either prevent or mitigate damage.  

“We could potentially work on, you know, therapeutics, to try to target the fibrotic pathways,” he said. “In a broader way, we also try to alert the general public that e-cigarette vaping is detrimental.” 

He also hopes the study will help agencies like NIH and FDA formulate regulatory policies as well. 

“The goal is to bring to the public’s attention that it doesn’t matter, you know, what kind of vaping, what form of vaping, (a person does),” he said. “It always brings harm to the health. Don’t vape, it will hurt your health.” 

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter