Even without Nicotine, E-Cigarettes can Increase Risk of Lung InfectionsJan 15, 2015
A new study suggests that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, can increase the risk of viral lung infections even without nicotine. The study, which was published in PLOS One, was led by Dr. Qun Wu, a lung disease researcher at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Wu and fellow researchers conducted the study by taking young, healthy epithelial cells and exposing them to e-cigarette vapor in the laboratory. Epithelial cells comprise the lining of the lungs and are meant to protect them from damage. "Epithelial cells are the first line of defence in our airways," Wu said, according to Health24. "They protect our bodies from anything dangerous we might inhale. Even without nicotine, this liquid can hurt your epithelial defence system and you will be more likely to get sick."
Within 10 minutes of vapor exposure, researchers saw an immediate harmful immune response manifesting as a rise in IL-6 proteins which triggers inflammation. This effect was present up to 48 hours later. "The cells showed a strong pro-inflammatory response and the risk of viral infection in those cells rose significantly." said co-author Dr. Hong Wei Chu, director of the Basic Science Section at National Jewish Health. The cells were more vulnerable to infection by rhinovirus, the virus primarily responsible for causing the common cold, after being exposed to e-cigarette vapor.
"We have provided strong evidence that the liquid used in e-cigarettes, whether it contains nicotine or not, has negative effects on the airways and on the lungs. The problem is, these products aren't regulated and there are no standards to control how much nicotine or other chemicals they contain. I think e-cigarettes could prove dangerous, especially with long-term consumption," the authors wrote.
This study emerges in a time where e-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular. In 2010, less than 2 percent of adults in the United States had tried e-cigarettes. By last year, this figure increased 620 percent to 40 million. Manufacturers market the product as being a healthier alternative to conventional cigarettes and a potential tool to help quit smoking, but these findings and others suggests that they have greater risks than advertised.