A study by researchers at National Jewish Health, a respiratory hospital in Denver, links the liquid used in electronic cigarettes to a significantly higher risk of respiratory viral infections, whether the liquid contains nicotine or not.
The researchers took cells from the airways of young, healthy non-smokers and exposed them to the vapors from e-cigarettes. In as little as 10 minutes, the researchers saw “a dramatic reaction” according to Dr. Hong Wei Chu, director of the Basic Science Section at National Jewish Health and leader of the study. “The cells showed a strong pro-inflammatory response and the risk of viral infection in those cells rose significantly,” Chu said, in a news release from National Jewish Health. The study was published by PLOS One, the Public Library of Science.To conduct the study, researchers used a machine with human cells from the airways in a sterile container at one end, and an electronic cigarette at the other end. The machine applied suction to the e-cigarette to simulate use. The vapors traveled through tubes to the container holding the human cells and once there damage to cells was almost immediate. The researchers noted a significant increase in the level of IL-6 protein from the cells, which indicates an immune response to the e-cigarette exposure, according to the news release.
The popularity of e-cigarettes has surged in recent years, particularly among young people. By last year, according to the National Jewish Health news release, 40 million people had tried them, an increase of more than 620 percent over the rate in 2010. But Dr. David Tinkelman, medical director of health initiatives at National Jewish Health, said, “We still don’t fully understand the effects e-cigarettes have on our bodies or the risks they might pose.” E-cigarettes are marketed to young consumer with fruit and candy flavors and “young people might falsely assume they are safe to use,” said Dr. Tinkelman.