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Vaping and Surgery: What are the Risks?

A new study by Frederick Deleyiannis, MD, suggests surprising answers

Author Department of Surgery | Publish Date January 27, 2017

The health hazards of smoking have been documented for decades, but research on “vaping,” the smoking of electronic cigarettes, is still in its infancy.

Proponents of vaping claim that e-cigarettes are much safer than conventional cigarettes since they deliver nicotine without burning tobacco. (In regular cigarettes, the burning process releases thousands of additional chemicals that are inhaled into the smoker’s lungs along with the nicotine.) Skeptics point out that the flavored liquids used in e-cigarettes contain their own chemical compounds which are largely unregulated and have unknown health effects—not to mention the known negative effects of nicotine. Currently, there is not enough research on vaping to answer this debate definitively.

For patients who need to undergo surgery, questions about the relative risks of smoking and vaping can be particularly important. Nicotine and carbon monoxide, both of which are inhaled in cigarette smoke, hamper the body’s ability to heal from wounds, including surgical incisions. The link between smoking and poor surgical outcomes is well established: smokers have more complications with anesthesia, more complications after surgery, and slower healing than nonsmokers. For surgical patients who have trouble quitting, even a few days’ abstinence from cigarettes before and after surgery can greatly increase their body’s resilience and ability to heal.

But what about vaping? Is smoking electronic cigarettes before and after surgery just as bad as smoking regular cigarettes? Half as bad? Or hardly harmful at all? Could vaping be a good substitute for surgical patients who are have trouble abstaining from regular cigarettes before and after their procedure?

Dr. Frederic Deleyiannis, a surgeon in our Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, wanted to answer these question with experimental evidence. The results he found were dramatic.

Learn about the study's results: