‘Little difference’ in risk of developing lung infections from vaping and smoking – study

18 December 2019
Sean Morrison

Vaping may be just as risky as smoking tobacco in terms of increasing the potential for bacterial infections in the lungs, researchers have found.

There is “little difference” in the effect of tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapour on bacteria often found in the lungs, according to a new study.

Queen’s University Belfast researchers found an increase in the potential of bacteria to cause harm when exposed to both.

Both can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an umbrella term which includes emphysema and bronchitis, and asthma, they said.

The study’s authors are calling for “urgent” further research into the long-term effects of vaping.

Researchers compared the effects of smoke extracted from Marlboro Red cigarettes to the vapour from a best-selling device.

The paper read: “Exposure of respiratory pathogens to e-cigarette vapour induced changes in phenotype and virulence, which may increase bacterial persistence and inflammatory potential.

“These changes were similar, and in some cases exceeded, those observed following bacterial exposure to cigarette smoke and suggest that there is little difference between the effect of (cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapour).

“There is therefore an urgent need for further robust clinical studies investigating and clarifying the long-term effect of e-cigarette use on both airway cells and respiratory pathogens, to enable a better-informed judgment to be made regarding their safety.”

Dr Deirdre Gilpin, researcher from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University and lead author, added: “This study shows us that vaping may carry the same risk as cigarette smoke in increasing the susceptibility to bacterial infection.”

Experts generally agree that vaping is safer than smoking, but the jury is out on the potential long-term implications and how safe it is.

While Public Health England stands by its 2015 claim that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking, recent evidence has led to calls for countries to consider banning it.

In November, leading cardiologists published research suggesting vaping could damage the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs, while the European Respiratory Society more recently said it cannot back vaping as a safe way to quit smoking.

Other researchers say they observed clear early benefits in switching from smoking to vaping on vascular function, in a trial by the University of Dundee.

The authors of the current study say that to fully assess the changes, tests on mammal models need to be undertaken.

They also say they may have underestimated the exposure of the bacteria to e-cigarettes because they used similar delivery methods for the vapour and tobacco smoke.

In practical terms, research has found that e-cigarette users typically take larger and longer puffs compared with traditional smokers.

Evening Standard