E-cigarettes are NOT as safe as we’ve been led to believe, as scientists reveal vaping does cause lung damage
They’ve been endorsed by health chiefs as a weapon in the battle against smoking.
But e-cigarettes may not be as safe as users have been led to believe, scientists have warned.
Research suggests vaping triggers the production of damaging inflammatory chemicals in the airways.
The lead scientist behind the research last night urged ‘cautious scepticism’ over the safety of the devices.
The advice will add to public confusion over e-cigs, with even the Government’s different health agencies divided on the subject.
Public Health England has backed them since it declared in a landmark report in 2015 that they were ‘around 95 per cent less harmful than smoking’.
Last October it promoted e-cigarettes as part of its annual ‘Stoptober’ quit smoking campaign.
However, another official body, the clinical guidelines watchdog NICE, has told GPs not to recommend e-cigarettes because there is limited evidence over their safety.
The new findings, published in the BMJ Thorax journal, suggests vaping over time may lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a disabling condition commonly associated with smoking tobacco.
Lead author Professor David Thickett, an expert in respiratory medicine at Birmingham, said: ‘There’s certainly an agenda to portray e-cigarettes as safe.’
He stressed tobacco remains more dangerous than vaping but added: ‘We should have a cautious scepticism that they are as safe as we are being led to believe.’
Though most health experts view e-cigarettes as a crucial tool in the fight against tobacco, there is particular concern about their use among the young.
E-cigarettes contain a liquid form of nicotine that is heated into vapour to be inhaled, avoiding the harm caused by tobacco smoke.
Around 3million adults in Britain have used e-cigarettes in the decade or so that they have been available. They are thought to help 22,000 quit smoking each year.
Doubts linger over ‘safer alternative’ to cigarettes
E-cigarettes were invented just 15 years ago by a Chinese engineer, but already the devices have been used by an estimated 3million Britons.
Public health experts believe e-cigarettes can play a key role in helping smokers quit, and are already thought to help 22,000 a year break the habit.
Experts agree the gadgets – which turn a liquid form of nicotine into vapour to be inhaled – are far safer than smoking tobacco.
But many scientists are worried about unresolved safety concerns, particularly if used long term.
There are particular concerns about those who use e-cigarettes as a ‘lifestyle’ tool – especially those who have not smoked before.
Others are also concerned that e-cigarettes could act as a route for teenagers to go on to smoke tobacco.
Public Health England says the devices ‘must be clearly positioned as products that help adult smokers to quit’.
Critics are especially concerned that several major tobacco firms have entered the e-cigarette market as sales from traditional cigarettes fall. British American Tobacco, for example, has ploughed money into its Vype, Vuse and Voke gadgets.
The Commons science and technology committee has even conducted inquiry into their use, warning of ‘significant gaps’ in knowledge. A report is due to be published later this week.
Professor Thicket said: ‘E-cigarettes 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.’
His study, funded by the British Lung Foundation, assessed the effect of e-cigarette vapour on healthy lung tissue samples donated by non-smokers.
Many studies have focused on the chemical make-up of e-cigarette liquid before it is vaped, the researchers said.
So the team devised a mechanical procedure to mimic vaping and produce condensate from the vapour.
A third of the tissue was exposed to plain e-cigarette fluid, a third to different strengths of the artificially vaped condensate with and without nicotine, and a third to nothing for 24 hours.
The results showed that the condensate was significantly more harmful to the cells than e-cigarette fluid and that these effects worsened as the ‘dose’ increased.
The ability of cells exposed to vaped condensate to engulf bacteria was significantly impaired.
Professor Jonathan Grigg of Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘The argument that, since vaping is better than smoking cigarettes, any effects of vape on lung cells are not important – is increasingly becoming a specious one.’
Martin Dockrell of Public Health England insisted: ‘E-cigarettes are not 100 per cent risk free but they are clearly much less harmful than smoking.’
NICE guidelines to GPs last year told them to offer patients nicotine patches and counselling instead of e-cigarettes. The Health Department has adopted a middle ground, pledging to ‘evaluate critically’ the evidence around e-cigs’.