By Steven Reinberg
Tuesday, August 14, 2018 (HealthDay News) – E-cigarettes have been touted as a safer alternative to smoking, but the vapor they produce could damage lung tissue, much like regular cigarettes, British researchers report.
With or without nicotine, e-cigarette enhances vapor inflammation and deactivates cells that protect lung tissue, showing human tissue testing. When these cells are damaged, they are susceptible to dust, bacteria and allergens that could lead to incurable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the researchers said.
"There is a lot of support for people to use e-cigarettes instead of traditional cigarettes because of the perceived safety of the e-cigarette process," said lead researcher Dr. David Thickett in a podcast. He is a professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Birmingham in England.
"There is an agenda to make e-cigarettes safe," Thickett said. But since e-cigarettes exist only for a decade, the effects of long-term steaming are unknown, he noted.
Although e-cigarettes are likely to pose a lower risk of cancer than traditional cigarettes, it is unclear whether they are as safe as the manufacturers claim. But it does seem that the steam process itself can damage the cells of the immune system – at least in the lab, Thickett said.
"We should have a cautious skepticism about that [e-cigarettes] are as safe as we believe they are, "said Thickett.
"If you vaccinate for 20 or 30 years and develop COPD, we need to know something about it," he added.
Using a device that mimics Vaping, Thickett's team exposed lung tissue from eight nonsmokers to different types of e-cigarette fluid. None of the participants had ever suffered from asthma or COPD.
One third of the cells were exposed to pure e-cigarette fluid; one-third to various strengths of artificial steam with and without nicotine; and one third was not exposed for 24 hours.
The results showed that the vapor was much more harmful to the cells than the e-cigarette liquid itself – and the more the lung cells were exposed to it, the more they were damaged. Vapors containing nicotine enhanced the effect, the researchers found.
Exposure to the fluid itself increased cell death and oxygen radical production by 50-fold, the researchers added. Free radicals are reactive chemicals with the potential to damage cells.
In addition, cells exposed to vaped fluid were unable to fight bacteria. However, treatment with an antioxidant restored this ability and helped reduce other damage caused by e-cigarette fluid, Thickett's team found.
Dr. David Hill is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Lung Association, which reviews the findings.
Hill said e-cigarettes are safer than traditional ones, "less harmful but not safe".
He added that little is known about the long-term effects of steam on the lungs. However, this study suggests that long-term vaporization can lead to lung damage.
"We need to be careful if we promote them as safe," said Hill, who is also head of clinical research at Waterbury Pulmonary Associates in Connecticut. "Would I encourage my patients to use them, or should they be marketed as a safe alternative to smoking? No way."
The report was published online August 13 in the journal thorax,