Vaping may damage immune system and lead to lung disease, study suggests

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The perception that e-cigarettes are safe should be treated with caution, scientists have said as research suggests that vapour could harm lung cells. They used lung tissue samples by eight non-smokers and found out that vapour from e-cigarettes caused "inflammation and impaired the activity of alveolar macrophages" - which are cells that remove damaging dust particles, bacteria, and allergens.

As he said, "with regard to the carcinogenic molecules contained in regular cigarette smoke, electronic vapor certainly contains fewer carcinogens. But if you vape for 20 or 30 years and this can cause COPD, then that's something we need to know about".

However the US Surgeon General has warned that e-cigarettes leave young people at risk of nicotine addiction, brain development problems and mood disorders, while the World Health Organisation has said it is concerned that heating e-fluid can lead to the 'formation of toxicants'.

'But we should have a cautious scepticism that they are as safe as we are being led to believe'. The researchers then exposed the cells to e-cig fluid, some to condensed vapor and some to nothing for 24 hours.

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Researchers have reported that some of the effects of steam on the lung tissue look similar to those seen in the lungs of regular smokers and those with chronic conditions such as COPD. E-cigarette vapour also contains propylene glycol, which has not been adequately studied with regard to its safety when heated and inhaled deeply and repeatedly.

Researchers devised a mechanical procedure to mimic vaping and produce condensate from the vapour.

"However, since electronic cigarettes are used nearly exclusively in the United Kingdom by current or former smokers, the key question is how this adverse effect compares with that of exposure to cigarette smoke". Treatment with an antioxidant, however, restored that ability and helped reduce other damage caused by e-cigarette fluid, Thickett's team found.

With that said, it's no doubt that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes but the results of the research are undeniable and rather concerning. "Would I encourage my patients to use these or should they be marketed as a safe alternative to smoking? The current study does not address that question, but given the much lower levels and range of toxins in electronic cigarette vapor relative to cigarette smoke, the answer is likely to be substantially less", Professor John Britton, Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, who was not involved in the study, told the Science Media Centre.

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