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E-cigarettes may be more harmful than previously thought

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Research finds that e-cigarette vapour disables important immune cells in the lung and boosts inflammation

Vaping may be more damaging than was previously assumed, a study published in Thorax has found.

Researchers, led by Prof David Thickett at the University of Birmingham found e-cigarette vapour disabled important immune cells in the lung and boosted inflammation. The researchers mimicked the effects of vaping on lung tissue from non-smokers, finding that some of the effects were similar to those seen in regular smokers and people with chronic lung disease.

‘This study demonstrates evidence that lung cells exposed to electronic cigarette vapour become inflamed, as would be expected given that electronic cigarette vapour contains oxidant and other pro-inflammatory constituents’ said Prof John Britton, Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham. ‘This indicates that long-term use of electronic cigarettes is likely to have adverse effects, as is widely recognised by leading health authorities in the UK including the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England.’

The researchers have urged caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe. However, Public Health England advises they are much less harmful than smoking and people should not hesitate to use them as an aid to giving up cigarettes. The researchers also cautioned that the results were recorded in laboratory conditions and need further study to establish the full health impact of vaping.

‘Since electronic cigarettes are used almost exclusively in the UK by current or former smokers, the key question is how this adverse effect compares with that of exposure to cigarette smoke,’ added Prof Britton. ‘The current study does not address that question, but given the much lower levels and range of toxins in electronic cigarette vapour relative to cigarette smoke, the answer is likely to be substantially less. The harsh truth is that smoking kills, and smokers who switch completely to electronic cigarettes are likely substantially to reduce the likelihood of premature death and disability.’

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