Link between e-cigarette use and early age of asthma onset in U.S. adults found through UTHealth Houston research

A significant link between the use of electronic cigarettes and earlier age of asthma onset in U.S. adults was reported by UTHealth Houston researchers today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

Led by first author Adriana Pérez, PhD, MS, professor of biostatistics and data science at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, the research found that adults who were asthma-free at the beginning of the study and reported e-cigarette use in the past 30 days increased their risk of developing earlier age of asthma onset by 252%.

“While previous studies have reported that e-cigarette use increases the risk of asthma, our study was the first to examine the age of asthma onset,” said Pérez, who is also with the Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the School of Public Health. “Measuring the potential risk of earlier age of asthma onset as it relates to past 30-day e-cigarette use may help people from starting use or motivate them to stop.” 

The study team analyzed secondary data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study, a national longitudinal study of tobacco use and how it affects the health of adults and youths in the U.S.

“The findings of the study underscore the need for further research, particularly regarding the impact of e-cigarette use on youth and its association with early age of asthma onset and other respiratory conditions,” Pérez said. “It also highlights the importance of modifying screening guidelines to incorporate recent use of e-cigarettes, which could lead to earlier detection and treatment of asthma, reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with the disease.”

Pérez said the study highlights the need to address the health burden of asthma, which results in $300 billion in annual losses due to missed school or workdays, mortality, and medical costs according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco regulations, prevention, intervention campaigns, and cessation programs are needed to prevent early age of asthma onset due to e-cigarette use, the authors wrote.

Melissa B. Harrell, PhD, MPH, professor of epidemiology at the school, was senior author. Co-authors from UTHealth Houston included Pushan P. Jani, MD, MSc, associate professor of pulmonology in the Department of Internal Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, and Sarah Valencia, MS, statistician at the Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.

“There is a lot we have yet to learn, but what we do know is that the use of nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, poses serious health risks, and those need to be addressed with more proactive measures,” Jani said.

Looking ahead, Pérez said she and her team would like to explore potential links between e-cigarette use and the early onset of cancer, further broadening the understanding of the health implications associated with nicotine products.

The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (R21HL1655401), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products.

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