Dalhousie to study the effects of vaping on the lungs of adolescents
While the number of young Nova Scotians using vaping continues to rise, not much is known about the impact of vaping on their lungs, and whether it is able to cause permanent harm.
A recently announced Dalhousie University study on vaping and young adults may help to bridge the knowledge gap.
“Vaping is a problem that has hit us quite quickly. We’re not aware of much about it and it’s a subject that, at the very least, isn’t well-regulated in Canada or elsewhere around the globe,” Dr. Sanja Stanojevic told a reporter.
Stanojevic who is an assistant professor at Dalhousie University’s department of public health and epidemiology and the study’s director. The researchers are trying to know more about the effects of vaping . Although many people think that vaping is more secure as smoking tobacco, the truth is that we do not know the direct effects it has on the lungs of our patients.
“Given the severity of the issue of the number of people smoking vapes, and the reality that we’re making assumptions about safety while we’re not sure of the facts, I think any information at the moment will be helpful,” she said.
Although researchers are able to speculate on the possible health effects of smoking cigarettes, Stanojevic says the real challenge is gathering evidence. She believes that having a clear understanding of the situation is vital, particularly here in Nova Scotia.
Vaping rates are highest in Nova Scotia
“We are aware that throughout Canada around 15% of the population are regular users of vape. We also know the situation in Nova Scotia, that rate is much greater than elsewhere in Canada,” Stanojevic said.
“Up around 40% of teens or younger adults (in Nova Scotia) actually have attempted vaping at least one time and we’ve seen across Canada this trend growing. As a result, year after year, the number of people who use vaping is increasing.”
The idea of investigating vaping and its effects on lung function started when Stanojevic was at a workshop on youth vaping aimed at parents.
“I was there and I heard the comments. Parents were describing that they needed to scrape the dirt off the outside of their car’s windows due to teenagers smoking cigarettes in their cars,” Stanojevic recalled.
“There was a protest and people asked”Why don’t they be used to determine what’s happening? People all believe that it’s secure, and everyone believes that smoking cigarettes is safer. …’ and I thought, ‘This is exactly what I do. I analyze the way that the lungs function and then I determine the early factors that lead to the lung condition.'”
Vaping is the direct breathing to the lung of fumes which contain hundreds of chemical compounds. Stanojevic says the difficulty in assessing the impact of this activity is the fact that more conventional breathing tests aren’t able to identify early damage to the lungs.
They assess the airways of large size which are the bronchi or trunk of the lung. At the point that problems are identified the lung disease is usually “fairly important” and permanent damage has already taken place.
“We cannot always assess the impact of these substances because our tools aren’t sufficiently sensitive to identify the initial changes. We know that those who use vapes are hospitalized more frequently for respiratory ailments and cough more frequently and they also have more phlegm” Stanojevic told the AP.
“We are beginning to receive studies on humans concluding that there is a change in the symptoms and therefore what our study will add are quantitative measures of how the lungs function and examine whether it’s possible to notice the changes ahead of the tests we normally employ.”
In their research, researchers will utilize a unique breathing test to identify the early stages of lung damage in children suffering from lung disease. Stanojevic has already used this test when working with children suffering from cystic fibrosis. Instead of the larger airways, this test measures the role of the smaller airways.
“Every time we inhale something, regardless of whether it’s vape or the air we breathe or smoke from tobacco the airways that will be inflamed and going to begin to be injured,” Stanojevic said.
“What is our goal to detect among the young people who use vapes is whether or not we begin to notice changes in the airways. In the young and adolescent years the lungs of these people are not yet growing and therefore they’re exposed to something which could be affecting the health of their lungs.”
Make decisions that are appropriate for them.
Stanojevic said that if they detect early signs of impairment to lung function, healthcare professionals will then examine the lungs of patients whenever they experience an onset of cough or Phlegm. If people do smoke and begin to show signs it is possible to test them and the issues identified earlier.
Researchers will also be able to conduct more extensive studies to determine what the high levels of smoking cigarettes could affect the overall health of the lungs of the population.
“Ultimately individuals make their own choices regarding what they do, and in the end, we’re just trying to provide them with the information so that they can make choices that best suit their needs,” Stanojevic said.
The study on lung function is currently seeking 100 participants aged between the ages of 18 to 24.
Researchers are searching for 50 people who are using pod-type electronic cigarettes exclusively (like JUUL) and 50 more who have never smoked and do not have any history of lung diseases and no smoking history.
In addition to a quick questionnaire, participants also undergo 3 breathing exercises. The expected time commitment is 40 minutes. Researchers are able to work around schedules of people. Participants will receive a gift card in exchange for their time.
Anyone who meets the eligibility requirements and is interested in participating can contact the study coordinator , or look up the QR codes on posters.