Vaping impacts lung’s immune cells, study says

The debate over the safety of e-cigarettes continues.

A study by British and American researchers has found that atomizing the liquid of electronic cigarettes – something known as vaping – may result in a more toxic effect on cells that protect the respiratory system from infection.

The research, published in the Journal Thorax, compared the effect of unvaped e-cigarette liquid to e-cigarette vapor condensate with and without nicotine on the function of cells regarded as primary defenders against bacteria, allergens and toxins in the lung’s air spaces.

While both impacted these cells viability, the study found the vapor to be “significantly more toxic” to them than the non-vaped liquid.

The vapor was said to increase reactive oxygen species – something that can damage cell structure – approximately 50-fold and “significantly inhibited” the defensive mechanism of the cells.

The vapor was found to result in cell death at lower concentrations and to induce a process that could result in a state of inflammation within these cells in the lungs that is partly nicotine dependent.

“While further research is needed to fully understand the effects of e-cigarette exposure in humans in vivo,” the study’s authors concluded, “we caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe.”

E-cigarettes are generally promoted by their manufacturers here and abroad as a safer alternative to smoking and an aid in smoking cessation, a claim that researchers and others continue to dispute.

On its web site, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that e-cigarette aerosol contains fewer toxins than the mix of 7,000 chemicals in smoke from regular cigarettes but is “not harmless.”

E-cigarettes are generally used to vaporize a liquid into an inhalable aerosol containing fine particles of nicotine derived from tobacco as well as flavorings. The devices usually have a battery, a heating element and a place to hold the pre-filled pods or e-liquids for what is sometimes referred to as “vaping.”

A 2016 study found that smoking suppressed 53 genes in the immune system. Vaping did as well, but was said to also suppress 305 others.

The 2016 study took swabs from the noses of smokers, vapers, and non-users of both to evaluate the impact of e-liquid as well as some flavorings in e-liquid on immune cells.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, and cigars but does not as yet regulate the liquid of e-cigarettes.

Last month, Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation raising to 21 the legal age as of next year to buy tobacco products in Massachusetts, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes.