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Although many individuals assume that vaping is safe, and carries few side effects, new research highlights the link between e-cigarette vapors and lung infections, adding to a growing body of research about the health risks associated with the electronic devices.
In a study published in the European Respiratory Journal, researchers indicate that vaping e-cigarette liquid, with or without nicotine, increases the likelihood of pneumococcal bacteria sticking to the cells that line the nasal passage and airways, increasing a user’s risk of pneumonia.
Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London conducted three types of experiments focusing on cells in the airways. The experiments focused on cells in the lab, cells in mice, and cells in humans.
Specifically, they looked at vaping effects on platelet-activating factor receptor (PAFR). This is a molecule produced by the cells that line the airways, including the nose, throat, and lungs.
Past research has shown pneumococcal bacteria use PAFR to stick to airway cells. This increases the ability for bacteria to infect body tissues and cause illness.
PAFR levels increase in response to smoking traditional cigarettes, second-hand smoke, pollution, and welding fumes. The study experiments focused on whether vaping caused similar effects in airway cells.
In the first experiment, researchers examined the effects of vaping on the airway lining cells in a laboratory setting. They exposed some cells to e-cigarette vapor with nicotine, some to e-cigarette vapor without nicotine, and some had no exposure at all.
Airway cells exposed to nicotine or nicotine free vapor produced levels of PAFR that were three times higher. Then, when researchers exposed the airway cells that were initially exposed to nicotine vapor or non-nicotine vapor to pneumococcal bacteria, the amount of bacteria that stuck to the airways doubled.
Next, researchers tested the effects of e-cigarette vapor on mice. After mice inhaled the e-cigarette vapor, levels of PAFR increased on airway lining cells. Additionally, the vapor increased the number of pneumococcal bacteria in the respiratory tract, making the mice more likely to become ill.
The final aspect of the study focused on the airway cells in 17 humans. A total of 10 people used e-cigarettes with nicotine liquid. One person used nicotine-free e-cigarette liquid and six people did not use e-cigarettes at all.
Researchers then measured PAFR levels in airways of all 17 participants. Participants who vaped were asked to take at least 10 puffs on an e-cigarette over the course of five minutes.
One hour after vaping, PAFR levels on airway cells increased three-fold.
Researchers concluded the results of the three experiments indicated vaping makes the airways more vulnerable to bacteria sticking to the airway lining, thus increasing the possibility of disease.
Similar results were seen in a study published in 2016. Vaping increased a user’s risk of oral cancer and other oral disease. In lab studies, e-cigarette vapor caused 85% of oral cells to die after exposure.
The findings of the new study indicate that vaping long-term may increase the risk of lung infection. Pneumococcal bacteria can exist in the airways without causing illness. Yet, once the bacteria invade the airway lining cells it causes pneumonia or septicemia.
The side effects of smoking tobacco cigarettes were seen after years of exposure and research. The same appears to be the case for the risks of vaping, researchers indicate, noting that more studies are needed over the long-term to determine the full picture of the side effects.