According to a study, e-cigarettes, widely believed to be relatively safe, have now been found to cause damage to important immune cells in the lungs, reports the BBC.
Although advised by health experts as safer than cigarettes and ideal for use by smokers looking to quit, researchers are now cautioning against this advice.
An experimental study led by Professor David Thickett at the University of Birmingham looked at the effects of vaping on the lung tissue of a group of non-smokers using a mechanical device to mimic the vapor of e-cigarettes.
The cells studied were either left completely untreated, dosed with e-cigarette liquid, or exposed to various concentrations of vapor with and without nicotine.
The results of the study were quite alarming. Protective cells known as alveolar macrophages that remove damaging dust particles in the lungs were found to become impaired and inflamed by the smoke when exposed to the vapor. The higher the concentration of the vapor, the worse the damage. Additionally, the alveolar macrophages exposed to the vapor were less capable of engulfing harmful bacteria. The effects were even found to be similar to those found in cigarette smokers and lung disease patients.
The authors of the study described the results seen, reports Newsweek.
“Importantly, exposure of macrophages to [e-cigarette vapor condensate] induced many of the same cellular and functional changes in [alveolar macrophage] function seen in cigarette smokers and patients with COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease].”
Although further research needs to be conducted to determine the long-term health impact, the changes seen by the researchers happened over the course of just 48 hours, proving that the effects are relatively quick.
Dr. Thickett commented on the implications of the study.
“I don’t believe e-cigarettes are more harmful than ordinary cigarettes. But we should have a cautious skepticism that they are as safe as we are being led to believe.”
However, e-cigarettes may be safer in terms of cancer risk as they contain fewer carcinogens.
“In terms of cancer-causing molecules in cigarette smoke, as opposed to cigarette vapor, there are certainly reduced numbers of carcinogens. They are safer in terms of cancer risk, but if you vape for 20 or 30 years and this can cause COPD, then that’s something we need to know about,” Dr. Thickett added.
With the spike in the prevalence of vaping in the past decade, retail sales are expected to hit $5.5 billion this year, writes Newsweek, making the area of research incredibly important.