UTSA and UNTHSC Scholars To Study Health Effects Of Electronic Cigarettes

electronic-cigaretteIt’s not easy to quit smoking. I know. Like Mark Twain, I did it many times before finally kicking the habit nearly forty years ago by going cold turkey, without smoking cessation aids like nicotine patches, gums, lozenges or medication.

Today there is a technological approach to helping smokers quit the habit — electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes,” which are being marketed by several manufacturers as a “healthier way to smoke” and as an aid to help users quit smoking, leading to debate over their safety and their effectiveness as a smoking cessation method. Critics claim that e-cigarettes may be as harmful, or even more harmful than tobacco cigarettes. Instead of inhaling a cigarette’s nicotine and carbon monoxide, e-cigarette users inhale vaporized pure nicotine. Electronic cigarette makers and advocates claim that these battery-powered products can provide all pleasures of smoking without the tar, carbon monoxide and countless other chemicals that are found in conventional tobacco cigarettes — the vapor they create producing flavor and physical sensation similar to that of inhaled tobacco smoke — and while no tobacco, smoke, or combustion is actually involved in its operation, it is legal to use nearly anywhere: bars, restaurants, coffee shops, offices, and even on airplanes.

Electronic cigarettes are touted as the closest thing to actual smoking. The device looks, feels and tastes like the real thing; producing a vapour that looks like smoke and gives the smoker the throat hit that they expect and crave. Just think, one commercial blurb enthuses: “no flame, no tar, no ash, no carbon monoxide, no second-hand smoke, no smoker’s breath, no smelly clothes.”

However, very little research has been done about the effects of inhaling vaporized nicotine, making the claim that e-cigarettes are a less harmful or even safe alternative to conventional cigarettes at minimum questionable. In a recent article, The Guardian‘s Tom Riddington noted that when the FDA analyzed components of e-cigarette cartridges in 2009, they identified trace levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) — cancer-causing compounds typically present in traditional cigarettes, albeit at a much lower concentration. The FDA analysis also identified the presence of diethylene glycol — the base chemical component of automotive antifreeze and brake fluids and classed as a poison by the World Health Organization. At high enough quantities diethylene glycol can cause kidney damage, nerve dysfunction and respiratory failure. Riddington notes that in another study released in March of this year, University of California researchers analyzing the aerosol contents of e-cigarettes found particles of silver, iron, aluminum and silicate, and nanoparticles of tin, chromium and nickel, and that concentrations of these elements “were higher than or equal to the corresponding concentrations in conventional cigarette smoke”, and that “many of the elements identified in [e-cigarette] aerosol are known to cause respiratory distress and disease”. Mr. Riddington comments that “until the same regulations as other nicotine replacements are imposed, e-cigarettes should be considered a snake-oil gimmick that could get a new generation hooked on nicotine before their first smoke.”

williamcookeSo where does the truth about e-cigarettes lie? In an effort to answer that question, Health and Kinesiology Professor William Cooke and Associate Professor of Health & Kinesiology Donovan Fogt of the University of Texas at San Antonio have received $30,000 in seed funding from UTSA to scientifically distinguish the reality from the hype. The UTSA kinesiologists will team up with Assistant Professor of Integrative Physiology Caroline Rickards at the University of North Texas Health Science Center to gather baseline data about the effects of e-cigarettes on the body’s basic physiological health.


A UTSA release notes that over the next year, the research team will study effects that inhaling vaporized nicotine has on users’ heart rate, blood pressure, resting metabolic rate, physical work capacity and brain blood flow. UTSA students pursing kinesiology and health-related careers will conduct research alongside the scholars, giving them the opportunity to learn quantitative research methods in preparation for their careers in academia and health-related professions. The scholars will be working under the hypothesis that vaporized nicotine stimulates the human nervous system in ways that could seriously impact daily living. They believe that the inhalation of vaporized nicotine has the potential to increase a person’s resting metabolism, making exercise problematic. They also believe it prevents the cardiovascular system from properly regulating arterial pressure and decreases the brain’s ability to regulate blood flow.


“E-cigarettes are perceived as safer than actual smoking, and some people even perceive them to be an attractive weight loss tool,” comments Dr. Fogt in the release. “This study aims to quantify the metabolic consequences of inhaling vaporized nicotine.”

“This study is an important first step to understanding the physiological complications and public health concerns surrounding the use of e-cigarettes, observes Dr Cooke. “It will also give us a better understanding of the health effects of pure nicotine, without the harmful poisons found in tobacco products, on the autonomic nervous system.”

The researchers say that if the study confirms their hypotheses, additional research will be needed to further understand the immediate effects of vaporized nicotine, the impact of dosage and age on an e-cigarette user’s health, and the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.”

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is an emerging Tier One research institution specializing in health, energy, security, sustainability, and human and social development. With nearly 31,000 students, it is the largest university in the San Antonio metropolitan region.

The UNT Health Science Center, a graduate university located in Fort Worth’s Cultural District, is one of three institutional components of The University of North Texas System. The UNTHSC is home institution to several National Institutes of Health-funded research programs and currently leads all Texas health science centers in research growth with extramural research awards having increased by more than 100 percent over the past five years. Through the Office of Clinical Trials, faculty physicians participate in clinical research projects, seeking improved treatments for disorders.

Photo from http://media.naplesnews.com.

About Charles Moore

Charles Moore
Charles Moore is a syndicated columnist for several major Canadian print newspapers and has an extensive background in covering technology. He serves as a Contributing Science and Technology Editor for BioNews Texas.
  • mvs

    “Four years ago the FDA said they had found diethylene glycol (DG) in e-cigarettes. (See The FDA, the MHRA and The Electronic Cigarette for more information.)

    What wasn’t reported was that that traces of DG had only been found in one e-cigarette, belonging to one brand, at levels of 1%, OR that smokers are already exposed to DG in tobacco smoke.

    Shortly after the study, the claim that “e-cigarettes contain diethylene glycol ” began to spread. Articles with titles like “FDA: Electronic cigarettes are a no-no” spread not just through America but around the world, and smokers were urged not to switch to the products. As a result, thousands of smokers have chosen to remain with tobacco cigarettes which are estimated to kill between a third and a half of all smokers.”

    This was copied and pasted from here: http://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/ashtray-blog/2013/01/diethylene-glycol-electronic-cigarettes.html

    I can’t believe the anti-freeze fear mongering is still continuing.

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003891507710 Steven Janiszewski

    The latest study out of Virginia Tech shows that nicotine is equally as dangerous as tar. E-Cigarettes are just another way for tobacco companies to make money off of nicotine junkies. Do not be deceived.
    If you want to kick the nicotine monkey off your back, get Stop Smoking and Lose Weight: A Buddhadharmically Enhanced Alchemical Transmutation Process, by Tharpa Lodro, available at:
    And just do it.

    • patrickjhogan@gmail.com

      Pretty much all vapers are well aware of the fact that it isn’t as healthy as quitting. It also is a pretty solid fact that almost nothing can even best a 30% chance of quitting. Ecigs themselves are too early and the research isn’t out, but at least within my circle of friends who have tried it, as well as myself and my fiance. 5/5 of people within my circle have been off cigarettes. Again I fully admit my sample size is far too small for me to even begin to say it is statistically relevant, but until an actual study using something other than gas station cigalikes comes out (IE something considered by most experienced vapers to be ineffective, though admitted the strongest marketed products.) I will continue to push friends and relatives to something that is almost certainly, less dangerous than cigarettes, that at least from my perspective has more than a 30% chance of getting them off of cigarettes

    • Linda

      Sir John Britton of the royal college of physicians said nicotine is very much like caffeine. So don’t tell lies. Everyones addicted to something. Try going a few days without food or water. Tobacco companies are losing money because of people switching to e cigs which is why they’re are trying cash in. For big tobacco, the pharmaceuticals and the puritans, smokers lives are cheap, which is why all these groups are trying to stamp out something which will take the harm out of smoking.

      • Mike Nace

        So don’t tell lies. Everyones addicted to something. Try going a few days without food or water.

        I’ve never heard anyone liken a human’s reliance on food and water to an “addiction.”

  • TSpectacular

    Ha! Of course, I always trust ‘scientific’ comments that conclude with a plug for some wacko product.

  • Bryon

    You obviously are not a smoker. First, no one is under the illusion that nicotine is good for you. So thank you for pointing that out, but I as now former smoker thanks to my personal vaporizer will take a little nicotine to step myself off of the addiction of cigarettes. If you didn’t know cigarettes have many more addictive chemicals in it not just nicotine. By using the vaporizer I have been off of analogs for a month. I can order liquid in varying nicotine levels so you can back off of that as well.
    Here’s an idea let’s take a vote on how many people successfully quit smoking using your Alchemy book vs vaporizing. I don’t understand why a very small amount of health risk at levels comparable to caffeine, a risk that comes from regular cigarettes anyways. Why is this tiny risk so unacceptable when compared to the alternative. We are trying to save our lives, quitting smoking is hard I have tried multiple times. I have never made it this far and I feel great. Honestly your “Just do it” is horrible advice and any smoker who wants to quit will tell you, that you only come off as ignorant if it was that easy do you think millions of people a year would die from smoking? I for one haven’t been excited about the fact that I was going to die if I kept smoking but that is the nature of addiction. Now thanks to my vaporizer, I will be here for my daughter, I can breathe again, I don’t smell like cigarettes, etc…..
    Thanks for your advice but vaporizers worked for me and thousands of others to quit smoking where nothing else did.

    • Lori

      Well said. I do not smoke reg cigarettes any more…still get a bit of nicotine but working on that too. I think too much bad hype is coming from ‘holier than thou’ non smokers and tobacco companies…just leave us alone until you have real proof, not conjecture.

  • NeilPlatform1

    Steven, What study out of Virginia exactly? You seem to be under the misapprehension that cigarettes don’t contain nicotine as well as tar and carbon monoxide. The e-book you linked to is a load of mumbo-jumbo. E-cigarettes work where big tobacco and big pharma both failed.

  • Mike Imnotgivingyoumylastname.

    This article is bogus. Misinformation: “Instead of inhaling a cigarette’s nicotine and carbon monoxide, e-cigarette users inhale vaporized pure nicotine.” The truth: e- cig smokers inhale a mixture mostly made of propylene glycol(or vegetable glycerine or a combo of the two), flavoring, and, depending on user’s preference, nicotine (nicotine levels can be specified to vendor and is completely optional).

    Basically, this study is going to tell us that inhaling pure nicotine is going to be harmful to humans, and try to deduce that e-cigarettes are bad. Maybe if they did a study with correct proportions of nicotine, then it’d actually tell me something. This is a waste of money targeted at trying to take e-cigs off the market. What a load of bull.

    • Mike Nace

      Why are people so against the research community investigating electronic cigarettes to determine how much better or worse they are from real cigarettes? Why should consumers simply assume that the companies who have developed e-cigarettes have objective science behind them to veraciously back up their health claims? That’s all we’re talking about here — some research and peer review. Why wouldn’t an e-cigarette user want that?

      A good analogue to this discussion is sugar. We were told, “sugar is bad.” “Sugar makes you fat.” Then, the food beverage industries start making food with aspartame, claiming that it will help people lose weight. Now, studies are revealing that aspartame doesn’t help you lose weight, and it might actually make you fatter: http://www.bionews-tx.com/news/2013/08/13/utsa-and-unthsc-scholars-to-study-health-effects-of-electronic-cigarettes/

      On the e-cigarette issue, I take the researchers’ side: let’s put the technology to the test and see what the results reveal.

      • Tim

        I don’t think anyone is against research, but people are bound to be upset about the press coverage of such research reporting incorrect information about both the research and the subject of the research, or reporting technically correct information in a selectively deceptive way. For example, see all the articles(including this one) mentioning the FDA finding of TSNAs in e-cigs without mentioning the fact that the levels they found in an entire cartridge were equivalent to 1/1000 of those found in one single cigarette, and are on par with levels found in all other nicotine replacement therapies. Or referring to the FDA Diethylene Glycol finding, without mentioning the fact that it was found in only 1 of 18 samples from one manufacturer located in China(a manufacturer that I’m not sure even exists anymore), and was likely a quality control issue. Or, for example, the way that this article repeatedly implies that e-cig solution is 100% pure nicotine, when in fact the highest concentration on the market, besides those explicitly sold for dilution purposes, is ~3.6% nicotine.

        Research is good. However, it would be nice if those covering the research actually a. understood the research when they read it and b. familiarized themselves with the existing pool of research on the subject matter, for the sake of context.

      • Trace Dibble

        No one is against science that enters the discussion unarmed, unbiased and without a preconceived agenda, Mike. Unfortunately, this particular deductive exercise “…will be working under the hypothesis [a nice word for 'foregone conclusion'] that vaporized nicotine…could seriously impact daily living.”

        All that remains is for the “researchers” to gather raw data to be packaged, tweaked and massaged until it buttresses firmly an attitude already chiseled into the bedrock of academic political correctness.

      • Patrick Hogan

        When it comes to the research, it depends very widely on the methods using. Portions of this article, seem to imply things that are innacurate, are the starting point. It’s much like the studies that were funded to prove the harm of pot, in which they basically hooked monkeys up to facemasks, proving that if monkeys are provided with the quantity of smoke found in 100 blunts a day, they suffered brain damage.

        Vapers do want real peer reviewed studies done. The thing is, we want those studies done based on products that people actually use, and not some assumption of a mythical eliquid of which they use 100% pure nicotine, as opposed to the 1.0%-2.4% most use, or even the extreme 3.6% that is sold some places, but is pretty uncommon.

        • Mike Nace

          As the E-i-C around here, I can tell you that the decision to cover this article wasn’t in any way borne out of an ideology. The publisher and I came upon the story by way of press release, assigned it to Charles, and he wrote it up. I think that the headline, “UTSA and UNTHSC Scholars To Study Health Effects Of Electronic Cigarettes,” is a relatively narrow one, presenting the crux of the story and the research involved. Charles puts some context around the original story, but all in all, none of us have an axe to grind either way. The main editorial focus here at BioNews Texas is to highlight research and biotech advances taking place here in Texas. Thus, if there was an opposing study being conducted in Texas on this topic, I’d run it in a second.

          Actually, I’ll do you one better: if anyone knows of a recent, newsworthy study being conducted at any major life sciences research institution that provides a contrasting view on this issue, please e-mail me at mike.nace@bionews-tx.com and we will most certainly do a follow-up on this story — even if it is not a Texas-focused study.

  • Steve Spugersby.

    @mike nace.
    Sure, let’s put technology to the test but why don’t we, unusual concept I know, test things in the way they are used and not just a clamplock on one aspect?

  • Donna

    New study confirms that chemicals in electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risk

    • Mike Nace

      Thanks, Donna. But this is a study funded by an e-cigarettes lobby group:

      “This was the first study funded by the by The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives (CASAA) Research Fund. CASAA, the leading consumer advocacy group promoting the availability and use of low-risk alternatives to smoking, is an all-volunteer, donation-funded organization.”

      Conversely, the UTSA study was funded by the institute itself. Is there a study out there that supports these findings that has not been paid for by a lobby group for the actual product it supports?

      • Mike Nace
      • michael barton

        First off, much of the so called independent research out there is funded by institutes who are in turn funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The CASAA funding comes from Consumers. NOT from the industry itself.
        Second I defy you to find any research that has not been funded by someone with an interest either way. The trick is to find research that shows ALL of the results and is peer reviewed fully. If you are looking for research, check out http://www.clivebates.com which is run by a former director of ASH ( Hardly a Tobacco or Ecig lobbyist. He has no links financial or otherwise and is considered by all sides as an honest and trustworthy source) and which has a huge amount of research and comment on the subject.

  • Jennifer Webb

    You know, non smokers and medical professionals say they want people to quit smoking, but then when a product comes out that is really helping people quit–even those who wouldn’t have thought about it otherwise–it’s a witch hunt. Hospitals banning them, airports, restaurants, malls….with what information to back doing so? Talk to people who quit or are quitting with e-cigarettes. They are quite pleased with the results, nearly across the board. So we find a product that truly helps people quit, then we work to prohibit it in so many places that it becomes impossible to use. smh.

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