According to a study by Intermountain Healthcare, lung damage from e-cigarettes or vaping can lead to long-term respiratory problems, cognitive impairment, and mental health issues. (Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press)
Estimated reading time: 2-3 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY – According to a study by Intermountain Healthcare, lung damage from e-cigarettes or vaping can lead to long-term problems, including respiratory problems, cognitive impairment and mental health issues.
The study has been accepted into the annals of the American Thoracic Society in May, after being submitted in January. It found that the long-term effects of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) can persist for a year or more.
“Even 12 months after an EVALI diagnosis, the majority of our patients still had severe residual effects,” said Dr. Denitza Blagev, the study’s principal investigator.
Blagev, a pulmonary and intensive care physician at Intermountain, said most patients in the study had no significant comorbidities at diagnosis, so seeing serious problems after a year was concerning.
The study followed 73 EVALI patients treated at Intermountain Healthcare or University of Utah Health who had a 12-month follow-up appointment between July 2020 and August 2021. Patients involved in the study were primarily men and were on average about 31 years old.
At a 12-month follow-up appointment, 48% of patients had breathing problems and about a quarter reported significant shortness of breath. They were also diagnosed with mental health issues – 59% had anxiety, depression or both, and 62% had experienced post-traumatic stress.
In a self-report survey, 13% of patients said they were unable to work, 16% reported difficulty dressing or bathing, 54% still paid medical bills and 44% reported mental difficulties, including focusing, remembering and making decisions.
“These are not minor complications, and they occur even in patients whose injuries were not severe enough to require (intensive) care,” Blagev said. “These long-term problems also occur in relatively young people who could face a long life of ongoing complications.”
The study also found that 62% of patients continued to smoke, despite the continued physical impact of vaping or smoking on their health. More than half said they used marijuana, 35% said they vaped or used e-cigarettes, and 20% said they smoked.
Blagev said the statistics are alarming, but the high rate of vaping and tobacco use after diagnosis is not surprising.
“It’s not for a lack of motivation or a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the situation, especially for patients with depression, anxiety and PTSD who may resort to these vaping behaviors to make face,” she said.
However, she said participants who quit were younger, showing the importance of targeted outreach. Blagev said interventions should include awareness, as well as more policies aimed at reducing vaping and mental health issues among young people.
“We need to better address mental health issues in young people so they have more help than self-medicating with vaping and marijuana use,” Blagev said.
The Intermountain Healthcare study also cited the National Youth Smoking Survey which shows that e-cigarette use among teens is on the rise, with 11.3% of high school students and 2.8% of college students reporting having used vaping in the past month.