University of Louisville study examines health effects of flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products

By Tom Latek
kentucky today

The University of Louisville received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and the United States Food and Drug Administration to study the effects of flavorings like mango and chewing gum used in vapes and electronic cigarettes.

Researchers from UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, which recently opened at the school’s New Vision of Health campus in downtown Louisville, hope to better understand the short- and long-term impacts of these aromas – especially on the heart – and catalog which are potentially harmful.

University of Louisville researchers Matthew Nystoriak, left, and Alex Carll. (Photo by UdeL)

“E-cigarettes are still relatively new and we don’t yet fully understand what their health effects are,” said Alex Carll, assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and co-lead of the project. “Understanding this could help us make better purchasing and regulatory decisions.”

The FDA has banned unauthorized flavors used in disposable e-cigarette cartridges, saying some could appeal to children and help fuel rising youth vaping rates. However, a wide variety of flavors are still available in liquid form.

Matthew Nystoriak, associate professor of medicine and co-lead of the project, said some flavors can seem harmless because they taste the same or use the same ingredients as in food. But while these ingredients are safe to eat, they may not be safe to inhale.

Certain flavors used in vapes, such as cinnamon or diacetyl (artificial butter flavoring), have been linked to serious and even fatal health problems, such as cell death and “popcorn lung”, damage caused by inflammation of the airways.

“Our goal is to understand how individual flavoring chemicals affect the heart,” Nystoriak said. “There are many flavoring chemicals used in e-cigarettes and if we know which ones are potentially more harmful than others, it’s possible for people to make more informed decisions about the products they use.”

Identifying their biological effects is also likely to help the FDA regulate flavoring additives in e-cigarettes in the future.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2022, 4% of US middle school students (470,000) and 13.4% (2.55 million) of high school students reported having recently used e-cigarettes. Nearly 85% of young people who report using e-cigarettes say they use flavored e-cigarettes.

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