1. ITV Report

E-cigarettes may be more dangerous than previously thought and could cause lung damage

Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

New research suggests vapour from e-cigarettes could be harmful to cells in the lungs.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham found the vapour produced may damage the cells which are supposed to remove dust particles and bacteria from the organs - leading to some of the effects seen in smokers and people with lung disease.

Researchers acknowledged there are less cancer causing chemicals, but say there may be other risks.

In terms of cancer causing molecules in cigarette smoke, as opposed to cigarette vapour, there are certainly reduced numbers of carcinogens.

They are safer in terms of cancer risk, but if you vape for 20 or 30 years and this can cause [lung disease], then that's something we need to know about. I don't believe e-cigarettes are more harmful than ordinary cigarettes. But we should have a cautious scepticism that they are as safe as we are being led to believe.

– Professor David Thickett, lead author from the University of Birmingham
Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/PA Images

Scientists mimicked vaping in a laboratory, testing the vapour on lung tissues. They say more work is needed, but issued a warning,

"We suggest continued caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe."

Long-term use of electronic cigarettes is likely to have adverse effects, as is widely recognised by leading health authorities in the UK including the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England.

However, since electronic cigarettes are used almost exclusively in the UK by current or former smokers, the key question is how this adverse effect compares with that of exposure to cigarette smoke

The harsh truth is that smoking kills, and smokers who switch completely to electronic cigarettes are likely to substantially reduce the likelihood of premature death and disability.

– Professor John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham
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But Public Health England published an independent review into e-cigarettes in February, and say they are much less harmful than smoking, encouraging people to use them to help them give up traditional cigarettes.

A spokesperson said, "Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders".

It found,

  • vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits
  • e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits per year and possibly many more
  • e-cigarette use is associated with improved quit success rates over the last year and an accelerated drop in smoking rates across the country
  • many thousands of smokers incorrectly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking; around 40% of smokers have not even tried an e-cigarette
  • the evidence does not support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people.

The new research was first published in the journal, Thorax.