Vapour from e-cigarettes can kill cells that protect lungs and damage immune system, study concludes

New research comes as US outbreak of vaping-linked lung disease claims eighth victim

Tim Wyatt
Tuesday 24 September 2019 07:53 BST
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Vapour from e-cigarettes can kill off cells which line human airways, new research has suggested.

A study by scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia found fumes from three types of apple-flavoured vaping liquid could destroy bronchial epithelial cells.

These line the respiratory system and are important for keeping the lungs and airways clean.

The researchers also discovered the vapour could interfere with the immune system, in particular by disrupting macrophages: white blood cells which digest and store unhealthy cells and foreign debris.

Vaping has been under intense scrutiny in recent months after hundreds of people became unwell and several died in the United States from lung diseases which appear to be linked to e-cigarette use.

Last week, American officials announced an eighth person had died and about 530 others were suffering from the same form of mysterious lung condition. Most of the patients are young men, in their teens, twenties or early thirties.

The University of Adelaide researchers said their findings show tougher government regulation of vaping was now required.

“There are no regulations on the manufacturing of e-liquids. There are also no requirements to list the ingredients or their quantities,” said Miranda Ween, one of the scientists behind the study.

"As such, no two ‘’apple’, ‘chocolate’ or ‘cotton candy’ e-liquids will be made with the same flavouring ingredients, or even concentrations. These are the things that we know can affect how unsafe a particular e-liquid is.”

E-cigarettes and the vapour they produce must no longer be considered to be essentially harmless alternatives to traditional cigarettes, the study’s authors concluded.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is monitoring the US outbreak of illness, said they had not yet been able to identify which particular chemicals or substances might have triggered the vaping deaths.

But the CDC investigation has found many of the victims had pockets of oil clogging up cells which are responsible for removing impurities from the lungs.

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Although no firm conclusions have yet been drawn, the American Medical Association has already called on vapers to stop using e-cigarettes until the cause of the lung disease outbreak has been identified.

Some states and the Trump administration have floated the idea of banning flavoured e-cigarettes, which have soared in popularity, particularly among younger Americans, in recent years.

Last week, the US supermarket giant Walmart announced it would no longer sell e-cigarettes in its American stores.

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Some of the cases examined by the CDC involved people who had used unlicensed vaping products bought on the street which included THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.

But others have warned the growing alarm over e-cigarettes could easily backfire, if it pushes some users to revert to traditional smoking, which Public Health England has concluded is 95% more dangerous than vaping.

In surveys, large numbers of vapers report they first took up e-cigarettes as a substitute for smoking tobacco or to help them cut down and quit.

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