Pilot study shows correlation between persistent cough and use of electronic cigarettes by University of Kentucky students

Photo by Diego Servo, iStock/Getty Images, via UK

By Emily Domer
University of Kentucky

A small-scale study at the University of Kentucky shows correlations between persistent cough among college students and their use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, referred to as ENDS by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The systems include electronic cigarettes.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Addictive Behaviors, the UK-funded pilot study surveyed 61 UK students about their tobacco and e-cigarette use, and if they had experienced respiratory symptoms such as a persistent cough. Even when controlling for traditional cigarette and marijuana use among participants, the study found a greater likelihood of persistent cough among ENDS users.

“College students are curious,” said Kristin Ashford, a UK College of Nursing professor who was the study’s principal investigator. “When new products emerge, students often try them without having adequate data regarding product safety.”

Ashford and UK Perinatal Research and Wellness Center Assistant Director Andrea McCubbin pointed out that the study’s findings show the need for more research showing the misperceptions that college students have about the safety of ENDS.

“As ENDS products, including Juul, emerged in the U.S., many students believed they were less harmful than traditional cigarettes,” McCubbin said. “Creative marketing highlighted the appealing flavors of ENDS liquid, overshadowing the highly addictive nicotine content.”

Ashford said, “This study shows that ENDS users are at more risk for persistent cough than non-ENDS users. They exhibit a dysregulated salivary immune function, which may increase their risk for respiratory infection.”

The study opens the door for research examining the potential long-term effects of ENDS use among college students, Ashford said. The idea for the study originated from Kylie Dougherty, a College of Nursing undergraduate research intern who graduated in 2019. Ashford said, “It is important that we continue to raise awareness around this important topic.”

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