Second-hand nicotine vaping exposure raises risk for bronchitis, breathing problems

Exposure to second-hand vape smoke is linked with breathing problems in young adults, a new study has found. Photo by kevsphotos/Pixabay
Exposure to second-hand vape smoke is linked with breathing problems in young adults, a new study has found. Photo by kevsphotos/Pixabay

Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Second-hand exposure to nicotine vapor from e-cigarettes at home raises the risk for bronchitis symptoms and shortness of breath among young adults, a study published by the journal Thorax found.

If future studies determine that nicotine vapor exposure causes these complications, there would be "compelling rationale" for banning their use in public spaces, the researchers said.


Up to 93% of study participants reported being exposed to second-hand nicotine vaping at home over a five-year period and more than one in four of them reported wheezing and other bronchitis symptoms, the data showed.

"While association is not causation, this study is the first to describe the negative effects of [second-hand nicotine vape] exposure on respiratory symptoms," the authors of a related commentary, Drs. Anna Lucia Fuentes and Laura Crotty Alexander, wrote.

"Ultimately, this is a public health concern that, if not addressed, has the potential to negatively affect our population, including those who are most vulnerable," said Fuentes and Alexander, both of whom are physicians in the San Diego Healthcare System and were not involved in the Thorax study.


Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchi, or the passages that produce airflow, in the lungs and it causes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previous studies have linked the condition, as well as other breathing disorders such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, with vaping.

However, although research indicates exposure to second-hand smoke from traditional cigarettes can be harmful, less is known about the risks associated with vaping, according to the authors of the study, from the University of Southern California and the University of North Carolina.

Studies have found that vaping or e-cigarette devices emit less potentially harmful second-hand smoke, levels of ultrafine particles in they vapor they produce can be higher and as can amounts of volatile compounds and metals known to harm lung tissue.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data from 2,090 participants in the Southern California Children's Health Study, an ongoing assessment of the long-term effects of air pollution on the respiratory health of children.

The researchers collected detailed annual information on respiratory health, and active and second-hand nicotine vaping, and conventional tobacco and cannabis smoke exposure in the household from 2014, when participants were 17, on average, to 2019, they said.


Participants were considered to have bronchitis symptoms if they reported bronchitis in the previous 12 months, a daily cough in the morning for three consecutive months, a daily cough at other times of the day for three consecutive months and congestion or phlegm that weren't cold symptoms.

As part of the study, participants reported wheezing or whistling in the chest during the previous 12 months, and they indicated they had shortness of breath when they experienced it when hurrying on level ground or walking up a slight hill, the researchers said.

The prevalence of second-hand nicotine vapor exposure increased to 16% in 2019 from 12% five years earlier, while the prevalence of second-hand smoking fell to 21% from 27% over the same period, the data showed.

Between 76% and 93% of the participants who had been exposed to second-hand nicotine vaping during any of the study years, and they were more likely to actively use tobacco or marijuana products themselves, the researchers said.

The prevalence of self-reported wheeze rose to 15% from 12% over the five-year study period, according to the researchers.

Of the participants who reported being exposed to second-hand nicotine vapors, 26% indicated they had experienced bronchitis symptoms, up from 20% in 2014, the data showed.


About 18% said they had shortness of breath, the researchers said.

Compared to participants who hadn't been exposed to second-hand nicotine vaping, those who had were more likely to report bronchitis symptoms and shortness of breath, but not wheezing, they said.

Those exposed to second-hand nicotine vaping were 40% more likely to report bronchitis symptoms and 53% more likely to experience shortness of breath, the data showed.

"If causal, reduction of second-hand e-cigarette exposure in the home would reduce the burden of respiratory symptoms and would provide a compelling rationale for regulation of e-cigarette use in public places," the researchers wrote.

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