By Kathy Walsh

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Recently, the U.S. surgeon general called the surging use of e-cigarettes “a major public health concern.” That’s no surprise to a doctor at the University of Colorado Hospital after what he found in his own study on vaping.

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Dr. Fred Deleyiannis cautions patients against smoking tobacco before surgery because it alters circulation and can affect wound healing. But when he saw a teenage patient puffing an e-cigarette before her operation, he wasn’t sure of the possible health effects.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“You’re concerned about the same things tobacco would introduce — ‘Is there going to be a problem with healing? Is it going to affect their ability to tolerate anesthesia?'” Deleyiannis told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

There was little data, so the plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of Colorado Hospital and professor of surgery at the CU School of Medicine launched a study.

“Are electronic cigarettes really healthier than tobacco cigarettes?” said Deleyiannis.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

In a smoking chamber in a lab, researchers exposed some rats to tobacco smoke, others to e-cigarette vapor, 4 hours a day for 20 days.

“It’s like second-hand smoke, basically,” said Deleyiannis.

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The rats then had skin surgery.

“The areas that are black are areas of necrosis or cell death,” Deleyiannis pointed out in photos.

Dr. Fred Deleyiannis (credit: CBS)

Dr. Fred Deleyiannis (credit: CBS)

Researchers concluded exposure to e-cigarette vapor was as harmful to wound healing as exposure to tobacco smoke.

“It’s basically causing circulation not to meet its final endpoint — the skin,” said Deleyiannis. “Nicotine is certainly one factor and I do believe there are other substances in the electronic vapor that are also toxic or harmful.”

The data also suggests that, like tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vapor may increase the risk of emphysema. The study was funded by a CU Department of Surgery grant and will be published in a plastic surgery journal.

CBS4's Kathy Walsh interviews Dr. Fred Deleyiannis (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Kathy Walsh interviews Dr. Fred Deleyiannis (credit: CBS)

Deleyiannis believes electronic cigarettes need more scrutiny. He’s counseling patients to cut out vaping at least a month before surgery to reduce the risk of complications.

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Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 for more than 30 years. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.