Vaping e-cigarettes just once dramatically raises oxidative stress levels

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Although many vapers contend that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, studies continue to show both habits are bad for your health. Now, a new report reveals that vaping just one time in your life can dramatically affect the health of your cells. Researchers from UCLA find non-smokers who vape for just 30 minutes see their oxidative stress levels skyrocket, increasing their risk of disease later on.

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are molecules that damage cells, while antioxidants prevent this damage by neutralizing these molecules — preventing disease and reducing inflammation.

In a study of non-smokers, regular tobacco smokers, and regular e-cigarette users, researchers find a single 30-minute vaping session increases the oxidative stress in a non-smoker’s cells by two to four times.

“Over time, this imbalance can play a significant role in causing certain illnesses, including cardiovascular, pulmonary and neurological diseases, as well as cancer,” explains Dr. Holly Middlekauff, the study’s senior author and a professor of cardiology and physiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in a university release.

Smokers and vapers’ stress levels already high

E-cigarettes and other vaping devices deliver nicotine and other chemicals, along with flavoring, in the form of vapor instead of smoke. While advocates argue vaping is safer than smoking, studies show using e-cigarettes can lead to DNA damage, increased heart disease risk, a leaky gut, and even brain fog.

Middlekauff and researchers split 32 volunteers between 21 and 33 years-old into three groups. Eleven participants came into the experiment as non-smokers, nine were regular tobacco users, and 12 were vapers. All three groups participated in a 30-minute vaping session and a 30-minute “sham-vaping” session where they puffed air through an empty straw. The team collected immune cells from each volunteer before and after the vaping session.

While oxidative stress levels spiked among non-smokers, study authors discovered that tobacco and e-cigarette smokers did not experience an increase in oxidative stress. The team believes this is because a smoker’s baseline level of oxidative stress is already high in comparison to non-smokers.

“We were surprised by the gravity of the effect that one vaping session can have on healthy young people,” Middlekauff says. “This brief vaping session was not dissimilar to what they may experience at a party, yet the effects were dramatic.”

Vaping e-cigarettes becoming more prevalent in schools

Researchers say they’re concerned that vaping’s popularity is continuing to increase among teens and young adults. A 2020 study discovered that nearly one in three high schoolers admitted to using an e-cigarette within the previous month.

The UCLA team adds they still need to uncover how exactly vaping leads to changes in oxidative stress. Is it the nicotine or the other chemicals entering a user’s body?

“While there’s a perception that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes, these findings show clearly and definitively that there is no safe level of vaping,” Middlekauff concludes. “The results are clear, unambiguous and concerning.”

The study appears in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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