Tobacco Use and Respiratory Symptoms Among Adults: Findings From the Longitudinal Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study 2014-2016

Nicotine Tob Res. 2022 Oct 17;24(10):1607-1618. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntac080.


Introduction: We examined the relationship between current tobacco use and functionally important respiratory symptoms.

Methods: Longitudinal cohort study of 16 295 US adults without COPD in Waves 2-3 (W2-3, 2014-2016) of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study. Exposure-Ten mutually exclusive categories of tobacco use including single product, multiple product, former, and never use (reference). Outcome-Seven questions assessing wheezing/cough were summed to create a respiratory symptom index; cutoffs of ≥2 and ≥3 were associated with functional limitations and poorer health. Multivariable regressions examined both cutoffs cross-sectionally and change over approximately 12 months, adjusting for confounders.

Results: All tobacco use categories featuring cigarettes (>2/3's of users) were associated with higher risk (vs. never users) for functionally important respiratory symptoms at W2, for example, at symptom severity ≥ 3, risk ratio for exclusive cigarette use was 2.34 [95% CI, 1.92, 2.85] and for worsening symptoms at W3 was 2.80 [2.08, 3.76]. There was largely no increased symptom risk for exclusive use of cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookah, or e-cigarettes (adjustment for pack-years and marijuana attenuated the cross-sectional e-cigarette association from 1.53(95% CI 0.98, 2.40) to 1.05 (0.67, 1.63); RRs for these products were also significantly lower compared to exclusive use of cigarettes. The longitudinal e-cigarette-respiratory symptom association was sensitive to the respiratory index cutoff level; exclusive e-cigarette use was associated with worsening symptoms at an index cutoff ≥ 2 (RR = 1.63 [1.02, 2.59]) and with symptom improvement at an index cutoff of ≥ 3 (RR = 1.64 [1.04, 2.58]).

Conclusions: Past and current cigarette smoking drove functionally important respiratory symptoms, while exclusive use of other tobacco products was largely not associated. However, the relationship between e-cigarette use and symptoms was sensitive to adjustment for pack-years and symptom severity.

Implications: How noncigarette tobacco products affect respiratory symptoms is not clear; some studies implicate e-cigarettes. We examined functionally important respiratory symptoms (wheezing/nighttime cough) among US adults without COPD. The majority of adult tobacco users smoke cigarettes and have higher risk of respiratory symptoms and worsening of symptoms, regardless of other products used with them. Exclusive use of other tobacco products (e-cigarettes, cigars, smokeless, hookah) was largely not associated with functionally important respiratory symptoms and risks associated with their use was significantly lower than for cigarettes. The association for e-cigarettes was greatly attenuated by adjustment for cigarette pack-years and sensitive to how symptoms were defined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cough
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / epidemiology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / etiology
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Tobacco
  • Tobacco Products*
  • Tobacco Use / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology