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Vaping is not harmless – scientists showed that e-cigarette vapour can disable key immune cells in the lung

Posted August 15, 2018

E-cigarettes have been recommended many times as a better alternative to traditional cigarettes. In fact, there were several scientific studies, claiming that replacing smoking with vaping could help getting rid of the addiction. However, a new study led by the University of Birmingham has found e-cigarette vapour actually has a similar effect to regular cigarette in terms of disabling key immune cells in the lung.

E-cigarettes have been described as a healthy alternative to smoking, but they do have negative health effects as well. Image credit: E-cig Twigg via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Alveolar macrophages are protective cells that keep the air spaces clear of potentially harmful particles – they are key to the immune system in lungs and airways. They remove dust, bacteria, allergens and keep the lungs clear. Scientists have suspected that vaping could actually harm the alveolar macrophages even if in many ways it is not as harmful as smoking. At this point most people know that traditional cigarettes are associated with pretty much every lung disease, including lung cancer, asthma, COPD and fibrosis. But e-cigarettes are often painted in bright colours, which may lead people to making uninformed decisions.

Previously several studies examing the liquid from e-cigarettes and determined it to be pretty much harmless. This is not a correct way of addressing the issue, however, as vaporising actually changes chemical composition of the liquid. Now scientists analysed the effects of the actual vapour and found that it is in many ways as harmful to the immune system in the lungs and airways. Furthermore, it increases the inflammation and inhibits the function of cells that are key to the immune system. In short, vaporised e-cigarette fluid is toxic to living cells – in many ways, as toxic as the smoke from the traditional cigarettes.

Scientists created a mechanical device that mimicked vaping and allowed to condensate the vapour. They exposed some human alveolar macrophages from people who don’t smoke nor have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Some other of the cell samples were exposed to non-vaporised e-cigarette fluid and the third group – to nothing. Results showed that the condensate was significantly more harmful and after 24 hours the number of viable cells was significantly reduced. Even cells that were still alive could not function properly anymore. The good news is that the treatment with antioxidants restored their ability to engulf bacteria.

A lot more research needs to be done about vaping. It is a fairly new trend and a lot of misinformation is spreading about this habit. People need information to make decisions and hopefully researches like this can help revealing the true effects of vaping.


Source: University of Birmingham

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