Smokers with COPD can improve their health by replacing cigarettes with e-cigarettes. This is according to a new long-term study that followed COPD patients for 5 years.
Updated July 2023.
Quitting smoking is the only way to reduce the damage caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The disease is caused by toxins in cigarette smoke which, over time, can trigger chronic inflammation of the airways and lungs. The prognosis for COPD patients who do not quit smoking is poor and often life-threatening.
Used e-cigarettes instead of smoking
In a recently published long-term study Italian researchers have now mapped the effects of how COPD patients reacted to switching the cigarettes against e-cigarettes. The researchers followed 39 patients for five years. Half were still smoking, while half used e-cigarettes, vejpning, to help them quit smoking. The vejp group also included patients who had significantly reduced their smoking, but not quit completely.
"The advantage of e-cigarettes is that they do not rely on the combustion of tobacco. The liquid that is heated evaporates at much lower temperatures than those that trigger the high concentration of toxins found in cigarette smoke," the researchers write.
Different e-liquids and nicotine
The patients who vejpade used different types of e-cigarettes, e-juices and nicotine strengths over the 5 years of the study. The trend showed that the nicotine content of the e-liquid decreased over time. Among those who used e-cigarettes in combination with regular cigarettes, smoking was reduced by almost 80 per cent, the researchers note. Patients were tested at 12-month intervals.
Big changes with e-cigs
COPD causes permanent damage that cannot heal, and usually worsens over time. The researchers therefore compared the extent to which the patients' condition deteriorated, the impact on different lung functions, and how they managed to perform daily tasks such as moving and exercising.
The results showed patients who switched to electronic cigarettes improved their prognosis on several levels.
"The patients who used e-cigarettes showed clear improvements in their prognosis, compared to the smokers. The exacerbation rate was reduced by 50 per cent," writes the researchers.
Better lung functions
The vejping patients also developed fewer related diseases and infections that required hospitalisation, the study found.
"Consistent with previous studies, e-cigarette users also showed improvements in lung function, exercise and mobility. We see no difference between these and patients and those who quit smoking with traditional nicotine medicines," the researchers write.
Biggest study on COPD and e-cigarettes
The study is the longest to date on e-cigarettes and COPD. Previous studies have suggested that e-cigarettes may exacerbate COPD.
"But these studies have not been based on clinical trials," say the researchers.
In their analysis, they point to the value of long-term clinical studies, not only to know whether e-cigarettes are harmful to COPD patients in the long and short term, but also to give doctors more tools to help their patients.
"It is about identifying different conditions for switching to a smoke-free lifestyle," the researchers write.
Difficult to quit smoking despite COPD
They clarify that e-cigarettes are not risk-free, but that several studies, both clinical and theoreticalshows that vejpning is a significantly less harmful alternative to continuing to smoke cigarettes.
"Many smokers with the diagnosis do not want to or find it very difficult to quit smoking with traditional methods. E-cigarettes allow them to keep their product, but at the same time improve their prognosis. It has proven to be an "accepted" way for patients to quit smoking. E-cigarettes become a useful tool in treatment and can reduce the inevitable suffering caused by COPD," the researchers write in their analysis.