Vaping may be just as likely to cause bronchitis and emphysema as smoking cigarettes, a study suggests.
E-cigarette vapour containing nicotine made bacteria found in the lungs to become more harmful, similar to cigarette smoke.
Researchers warn users of the devices may even be at higher risk because they take deeper and longer puffs than traditional smokers.
The three-year study compared the effect of cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapour on levels of bugs linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Six probable vaping-related lung illness cases have been linked to state-licensed marijuana dispensaries, Massachusetts health officials said on Thursday (file image)
COPD is a group of lung conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
It found changes in bacteria exposed to e-cigarette vapour were similar, and in some cases more severe, than in bugs exposed to cigarette smoke.
The study adds to growing fears over the health risks of vaping after 52 people in the US have been killed by illnesses linked to the devices.
Public Health England stands by its claims they are ’95 per cent safer than traditional tobacco’ and encourages smokers to switch to vaping.
But the latest study suggests the devices are just as harmful to the lungs as tobacco smoke.
WHAT IS CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) describes a group of lung conditions that cause the airways to narrow and become inflamed.
Examples include bronchitis, which affects the airways, and emphysema, which impacts the air sacs.
This makes it harder to move air in and out as you breathe.
Around 1.2million people in the UK are diagnosed with COPD, British Lung Foundation statistics show.
And in the US, 16million people suffer from COPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It usually develops due to long-term damage to the lungs from smoking or air pollution.
Jobs where people are exposed to fumes, dust and chemicals also raise the risk.
COPD also seems to run in families.
And a rare genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency makes people susceptible at a very young age.
- Breathlessness during day-to-day activities, like walking
- Persistent cough
- Wheezing in cold weather
- Producing excess phlegm
In severe cases, sufferers lose their appetite, have swollen ankles, lose weight and may even cough up blood.
COPD is incurable and the damage to the lungs cannot be reversed.
However, treatments can help make breathing easier.
Patients should also quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight.
Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast grew three different samples of common lung bacteria in a laboratory.
The microorganisms were exposed to either cigarette smoke, e-cigarette vapour or nothing at all.
Harmful biofilms of began growing in the bacteria exposed to the chemicals, an effect not observed in the control. The researchers say biofilms increase the chance of persistent infections occurring.
To investigate how harmful these bugs were, the team infected larvae of the moth G. mellonella with the strains of bacteria grown in the lab.
Insects, which typically have a 10-day lifespan, infected with bacterial strains exposed to cigarette smoke or vapour died much sooner than those that were implanted with non-exposed bacteria.
Lead author Dr Deirdre Gilpin, a lecturer in material and advanced technologies for healthcare at Queen’s, said: ‘A recurring theme of this study is the similarity in the effect of exposure to cigarette smoke compared to e-cigarette vapour on how bacteria behave and how harmful they are.
‘The findings indicate that the effects of vaping on common lung pathogens may be similar to those of smoking.’
The authors caution that the study may underestimate the harmfulness of vaping, due to the differences in smoking behaviour.
Dr Gilpin added: ‘E-cigarette users take larger and longer puffs, compared to conventional cigarette users, which may increase nicotine delivery.
‘Our model may therefore underestimate the exposure of respiratory pathogens to nicotine contained in e-cigarette vapor.’
It comes amid an e-cigarette epidemic in the US which is killing more people every week.
The spate of illnesses and deaths is thought to be caused by illicit vaping products containing marijuana components.
Fears of their safety has also spread to the UK, after the first British death linked to them was reported in October.
British schoolboy, 16, who suffered allergic reaction to his e-cigarette fluid was placed on life support after his organs failed
Ewan Fisher, now 19, was rushed to A&E in May 2017 after vomiting a neon green liquid and gasping for breath just four months after taking up e-cigarettes.
He had to be hooked up to life support in intensive care when his vital organs failed and an artificial lung was needed to pump oxygen through his body.
The teenager, from Nottingham, is believed to have suffered an exaggerated immune response to chemicals found in e-cigarette fluid.
He was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), which sees the air sacs and airways in the lungs become severely inflamed.
Ewan Fisher, 19, had to be hooked up to life support and almost died from serious respiratory failure triggered by vaping
The condition is triggered by an allergic reaction to inhaled dust, fungus, moulds or chemicals.
The tale was revealed by Nottingham University Hospitals Trust doctors in the
The teenager revealed he stopped smoking a half pack of cigarettes a day at 16 because he wanted to focus on his boxing training.
He switched to puffing on two sweet-flavoured e-liquids around 14 times a day. But by May 2017, he gave them up too after developing a nasty cough.
Just days later he vomited a bright green liquid and was rushed to hospital by his panicked mother.
The life support saved him but he was in hospital for a month and did not fully recover for more than a year.