This Vape Flavor May Be Damaging Human Cells, According To Study

The dangers may lie in the flavorings - maybe. FOTOGRIN/Shutterstock

A new piece of research has suggested that the cinnamon flavor of vape juice is potentially harmful to the cells in your windpipe. There’s limited data at present; as spotted by Gizmodo, this was presented at the annual gathering of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego this week, so a peer-reviewed study does not yet exist.

Saying that, the findings of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill-led research are worth exploring – but before we dive in, here are a few important points about vaping that need to be highlighted straight off the bat.

Aside from the devices themselves exploding in your face – a worthy concern – the safety of vaping is still to be precisely determined. Importantly, although not harmless, evidence strongly suggests vaping is magnitudes better than smoking, the latter of which kills millions every single year.

Long-term studies, including this 2017 paper funded by Cancer Research UK, is just one example of a paper indicating that you are exposed to far less carcinogens and otherwise toxic materials when you vape. As pointed out by the UK’s National Health Service, this may not be surprising – after all, one of the appeals of vaping is that users can inhale flavored nicotine-imbued combinations without most of the dangerous effects of smoking. Still, it’s nice to see good evidence for it.

That’s just one study, but its findings don’t stand in glorious isolation. Evidence is still coming through, but in this respect, few would find reason to disagree. The specific ways in which vaping can be harmful, however, are still fairly unclear, but research have previously suggested the risk may lie in the flavorings.

A 2018 PLOS Biology study, for example, found that adding certain ingredients to vape fluids is associated with toxicity, even if the toxic effects of vaping remain low. These included, among others, vanillin and cinnamaldehyde.

As it turns out, this latest research also took a look at the compound cinnamaldehyde, which is commonly used to give the vaping juice its cinnamon flavor.

First, the team began culturing some human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs), those that dot your windpipe near your lungs. These are pretty important little structures: Using tiny strands known as cilia, they help clear unwanted mess, including pathogens, away and effectively act as the gatekeepers to your lungs.

According to the presentation’s abstract, these cultures were then “exposed to diluted cinnamon e-liquids and e-liquid aerosol generated by a 3rd generation e-cigarette device.”

In all cases, it appears that the cilia beat frequency – the wiggling, clearing action of the cilia – is temporarily suppressed. They also experienced a metabolic slowdown, and a decrease in intracellular ATP levels, which refers to the chemical that stores and transports energy around the cell.

Considering that HBECs are “essential innate defenses in the lung,” the team conclude that “inhalational exposures of cinnamaldehyde may increase the risk of respiratory infections in e-cigarette users.”

Without seeing more data, it’s not clear what the relative or absolute risks to vapors actually are. Although solid-sounding, this study also only focused on cultures, not real people, so it’s unclear if the same effect applies in real life. Indeed, that’s the next stage of the research.

These findings should be taken seriously, of course, but the dangers of cinnamaldehyde are still far from certain. Watch this space.

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