Chemicals in vaping flavors may cause widespread damage to lung tissue

Chemicals that comprise flavored e-liquids and pods may cause harmful effects to lung tissue, including inflammation and genetic damage that could indicate long-term risk for respiratory disease and even cancer, according to a new research study.

E-cigarette flavored pods are growing in use among the nation’s young adults and come in a variety of flavors, such as cucumber, mango, and mint. Employing mass spectrometry, the researchers identified almost 40 different chemicals present in various combinations in seven flavors produced by a major vaping product manufacturer. These include hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, many of which have industrial uses and are known to be harmful if inhaled.

In the study, researchers exposed human lung tissue - including bronchial epithelial cells, which play an important role in the exchange of gases, and monocytes, an infection-fighting cell in the immune system - to aerosolized vapor from the flavor pods. They observed that the chemicals provoked inflammation and degraded the integrity of the epithelial cells, a condition that could eventually lead to acute lung injury and respiratory illness. Exposure also damaged DNA in the cells, a potential precursor to cancer.

The study, partly funded by NHLBI, appeared in the journal Scientific Reports.