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E‑cigarettes are NOT as safe as we’ve been led to believe

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.

New research suggests vaping triggers the production of damaging inflammatory chemicals in the airways (file photo)
New research sug­gests vap­ing trig­gers the pro­duc­tion of dam­ag­ing inflam­ma­to­ry chem­i­cals in the air­ways (file pho­to)

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.’

When inhaled, vaping liquid condenses in the lungs and seems to disable key protective cells, a University of Birmingham study revealed (file photo)
When inhaled, vap­ing liq­uid con­dens­es in the lungs and seems to dis­able key pro­tec­tive cells, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Birm­ing­ham study revealed (file pho­to)

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’.

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