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Study: Vaping may lead to emphysema, just like smoking

Smoke from vaping, e-cigarettes.
Smoke from vaping, e-cigarettes.

Experts are learning more each day about the potential risks of electronic cigarette use or "vaping."

In fact, a recent study shows that chronic vaping can cause the same lung changes seen in smokers of traditional cigarettes.

Researchers measured lung fluids of a group of people that included non-smokers, smokers, and people who use electronic cigarettes.

"They saw that the same enzymes were elevated in people who were using electronic cigarettes, and this is something that would maybe indicate that this single mechanism that leads to emphysema, with cigarettes, could potentially lead to chronic lung disease from vaping," said Dr. Humberto Choi, of Cleveland Clinic, who did not take part in the study. 

The study authors say nicotine, which is found in both traditional cigarettes and in vaping liquids, is likely responsible for the lung changes.

Choi said millions of people are vaping -- and vaping has traditionally been marketed as a "safer" alternative to cigarette smoking.

He said experts are beginning to see numerous cases of people developing severe lung disease related to vaping.

And while there is still much more to learn about vaping, Choi said this study shows us that it is not necessarily safer than traditional cigarette smoking.

"Vaping is not as safe as people thought it was," he said. "We are seeing now with all these cases of people being hospitalized from vaping, that there are forms of inflammation in the lungs that can happen very quickly."

Choi said only time will tell us about all of the potential consequences of using electronic cigarettes. 

He said more research is needed to know whether vaping can be associated with other forms of chronic lung disease as well.

Complete results of the study can be found in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.