New research suggests the liquid used in electronic cigarettes could increase the risk of viral lung infections, regardless of whether it contains nicotine.
The findings suggest e-cigarettes may not be the healthy solution to quitting smoking that they are often believed to be. Dr. Hong Wei Chu, director of the Basic Science Section at National Jewish Health and leader of the study, explained that the researchers “took cells from the airways of young, healthy non-smokers and exposed them to the liquid or vapors from e-cigarettes in the lab and in as little as 10 minutes we saw a dramatic reaction,” Headlines & Global News (HNGN) reports. The cells showed “a strong pro-inflammatory response and the risk of viral infection in those cells rose significantly,” he said. The study was published in PLOS ONE.
The researchers used a machine with a device that replicated the act of smoking an e-cigarette to expose human cells to smoke from the e-cigarette. When the smoke reached the healthy cells, the researchers observed an immediate immune response that lasted for up to 48 hours, according to HNGN.
This study adds to the growing evidence that e-cigarettes, whose use is on the rise nationwide, are not a harmless substitute for traditional cigarettes. In 2010, less than 2 percent of adults in the U.S. had tried e-cigarettes, but that number has risen 620 percent since, HNGH reports. Researchers believe the number of children and teenagers using e-cigarettes is also on the rise, and some experts believe the devices introduce young people to smoking and they will eventually move to traditional cigarettes. “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,” Chu said. There are no standards for how much nicotine or other chemicals they contain and, Chu said, “e-cigarettes could prove dangerous, especially with long-term consumption.”