According to a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, asthmatic smokers who use electronic cigarettes experience an improvement in their asthma symptoms and lung function, even if they remain dual users.
(See: Polosa R, et al. Effect of smoking abstinence and reduction in asthmatic smokers switching to electronic cigarettes: evidence for harm reversal. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2014; doi:10.3390/ijerph110504965.)
The study examined 18 smokers with significant asthma who switched to electronic cigarettes. Ten of the patients switched completely and 8 became dual users (both smoking and using e-cigarettes). Among the dual users, the average cigarette consumption dropped from 22.4 to 3.9 cigarettes per day.
After one year follow-up, both the ex-smokers and dual users experienced a significant improvement in asthma symptoms and lung function, especially small airways obstruction. Although the improvements in lung function were small, the improvements in asthma symptoms were clinically relevant.
As the authors point out: "Of interest, consistent improvements in subjective and objective asthma outcomes were also observed amongst dual users (i.e., heavy reducers) with no real difference in dual compared to single users by the end of the observation period."
The authors conclude as follows: "By substantially reducing number of cigarettes smoked per day and exposure to their hazardous toxicants, e-cigs may not only improve asthma symptoms and pulmonary function but may also confer an overall health advantage in smokers with asthma. Therefore, e-cig use in asthmatic smokers unable or unwilling to quit should be exploited as a safer alternative approach to harm-reversal (i.e., specific reversal of asthma-related outcomes) and, in general, to harm-reduction (i.e., overall reduction of smoke-related diseases)."
The Rest of the Story
While this study is preliminary because of the small sample size, it demonstrates that for smokers who are unable to quit smoking using traditional therapies, the use of electronic cigarettes may be a viable alternative to help them quit or substantially cut down and might result in improved respiratory health symptoms.
The study is notable because it found that even among dual users, there was a substantial improvement in respiratory health symptoms and a significant increase in several measures of acute lung function, especially small airways flow rates. Thus, the results of this study suggest that dual use of cigarettes and electronic cigarettes might result in respiratory health improvement if the reduction in cigarette use is dramatic, as it was among the dual users in this study.
The study is also notable because it found no adverse effects of electronic cigarettes on respiratory health among the vulnerable subpopulation of asthmatic patients examined.
Electronic cigarettes are not for everyone, and this study was not designed to examine the proportion of smokers who will be successful in quitting or cutting down substantially. However, it does document that among those who are successful in becoming ex-smokers or dual users with substantially lowered cigarette consumption, they will likely experience an improvement in their respiratory health.
This study provides further evidence that vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking.