Vaping file photo

Minnesota State University students turned in e-cigarettes in fall 2019 during an anti-vaping education week on campus.

MANKATO — A landmark study recently backed up what health professionals have long suspected about the connection between e-cigarette usage and respiratory illnesses.

The study published in December’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine found long-term vaping is a risk factor for respiratory disease. It’s the first study published on vaping’s long-term effects since the products hit the U.S. market more than a decade ago.

American Lung Association Senior Director Pat McKone said while the results didn’t surprise her, they do provide scientific backing to concerns raised by health professionals.

“I’ve been working in this field for over 40 years, and I feel like we’re losing ground quickly,” she said. “We really need to overcome that, and this new science will help us in that messaging.”

The rise of e-cigarettes among youth in recent years largely offset reductions in cigarette smoking rates. Mostly unregulated in its early years on the market, e-cigarettes have more recently been the target of public health campaigns seeking to limit its sale to young adults.

President Donald Trump signed legislation Dec. 20 making it illegal for retailers to sell e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 21. The move brought the federal law in line with hundreds of city or state Tobacco 21 laws already in place, including in Mankato, North Mankato and St. Peter.

McKone applauded efforts to raise the age to 21. Next, she said, the focus should turn to restricting certain flavored products marketed at youth.

“I think we have a start with raising the age to 21, but the real key to the epidemic is banning the flavored products, including menthol and mint,” she said.

The study noted switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes could “theoretically” reduce the risk of developing respiratory disease. But the evidence indicated a high prevalence of people using both, increasing the risk above smoking cigarettes alone.

Dr. Graham King, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, said he could see e-cigarettes being useful as a transitional product for long-term cigarette smokers on the path to cessation. E-cigarettes aren’t marketed that way, though, he added.

“It isn’t marketed as a transitional product,” he said. “It’s marketed as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking.”

McKone offered an analogy to counter the marketing claiming e-cigarettes should be viewed as “safer” to use than cigarettes.

“It’s safer to jump from a three-story building than a six-story building, but you’re still going to get hurt,” she said.

The study’s results should provide good educational tools for parents and their kids, King said. He praised the ongoing work of Project for Teens, a student mentoring group heavily involved in anti-vaping education at area schools.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola.

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