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Using Vapes to Quit Smoking Might Increase Cancer Risks, Study Says

Swapping conventional cigarettes for e-cigs has been touted as an effective way to quit smoking. However, new research suggests that former smokers who use vapes may have a higher risk of lung cancer than those who don't.

Smoking cessation can be extremely challenging. That's why some individuals use nicotine replacement products such as nicotine pouches to help them overcome this harmful habit. In some cases, people who want to stop smoking may turn to e-cigarettes or "vapes" to help them quit.

While studies have shown that vaping may help smokers quit regular cigarettes, the health effects of using this strategy are just beginning to surface.

For example, research suggests that e-cigarettes may damage DNA like conventional cigarettes, increase the risk of dental cavities, and raise the risk of heart failure by almost 20%.

But does vaping after smoking cessation increase or decrease the risk of lung cancer? In light of new research findings presented on May 20 at the American Thoracic Society 2024 International Conference, former smokers still using e-cigarettes may want to consider going vape-free.

Vaping man exhales
Image by PavelKant via Shutterstock

Ex-smokers, vaping, and lung cancer

The nationwide population-based study evaluated 4,329,288 Korean individuals with a smoking history to determine the lung cancer risks of those who used vapes after quitting conventional cigarettes.

The scientists divided the participants into groups based on the length of time since quitting and whether they used e-cigs after smoking cessation.

The participants were part of the National Health Screening Program from 2012 to 2014 and 2018. The researchers followed them until the end of 2021 and used Cox proportional hazards models to assess the risk of lung cancer and lung cancer-specific death among them.

The team also performed another analysis on high-risk former smokers aged 50 to 80 years with a 20-year or more pack years smoking history. These particular individuals would most likely qualify for lung cancer screening via low-dose CT scan as recommended by the American Cancer Society and other organizations.

After analyzing the data and adjusting for factors that might influence the results, the scientists found that former cigarette smokers who had quit five years or more and used vapes had a higher risk of lung cancer-related death than ex-smokers who had quit for the same timeframe but didn't use e-cigarettes.

Moreover, among smokers who had been smoke-free for less than five years, those who used vapes had a heightened risk of lung cancer and lung cancer mortality than ex-smokers who did not use vapes.

When the team looked at older participants who had a 20 or more pack-year smoking history, they found that those who had quit smoking for five years or more and used e-cigarettes reported a higher risk of both lung cancer and lung cancer-related death than those who didn't vape. Moreover, people in this group who were smoke-free for less than five years but used e-cigarettes had higher lung cancer risks.

Overall, the findings suggest that switching to e-cigarettes after quitting smoking was associated with a higher risk of lung cancer and lung cancer-related mortality. This was especially true for people considered heavy smokers who would be eligible for lung cancer screening.

Safe and effective ways to quit conventional and e-cigarettes

With the unknowns surrounding the health effects of vaping, people who want to quit smoking cigarettes have several other options to choose from, including quitting "cold turkey," using nicotine replacement patches or gum, or prescription medications like Chantix or Zyban. Many of these options are covered by insurance.

Moreover, some of these products and medications can help vapers quit. For example, in addition to smoking cessation, Chantix also appears to be an effective vaping cessation aid. Recent research published in BMC Med found that the medication can help people who use e-cigarettes quit, especially when combined with counseling through a vaping cessation program.

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