Vaping may feed lung disease-causing bacteria just like smoking

Sam Mellish / In Pictures via Getty ImagesWhen the bacteria builds up in the lungs, it can lead to decreased lung function and chronic lung disease.
  • A new study, published today in the journal Respiratory Research, suggests vaping is just as bad for a person’s lung health as traditional smoking when it comes to its affect on lung bacteria.
  • The study’s researchers exposed four different strains of lung disease-causing bacteria to cigarette smoke from Marlboro Red cigarettes and unflavored vapour from a Vapourlite brand vape, and found both the smoke and the vapour caused the bacteria to grow.
  • In some cases, e-cigarette vapour led to more bacterial growth than cigarette smoke.

  • The research, though conducted in a lab and not on humans, is concerning to scientists because the bacteria is linked to decreased lung function and chronic lung disease.
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Vape proponents often say the devices are safer alternatives to cigarettes, but a new study, published today in the journal Respiratory Research, suggests vaping is just as bad for a person’s lung health as traditional smoking when it comes to lung-disease risk.

The study findings differ from another recent study which found that while people who vaped regularly were more than 1.3 times as likely to develop chronic lung disease than non-vapers, tobacco smokers were still worse off, with a 2.6 times greater likelihood of developing the disease.

To come to the their conclusion, the new study’s researchers exposed four different strains of lung bacteria to cigarette smoke from Marlboro Red cigarettes and unflavored vapour from a Vapourlite brand vape. They found that both the smoke and the vapour caused the bacteria to grow more than bacteria samples that weren’t exposed to vapour or smoke.

The findings are concerning because when the bacterial strains the researchers studied, H. influenzae, S. aureus, S. pneumoniae, and P. aeruginosa, build up in the lungs, they can lead to increased lung inflammation, decreased lung function, and chronic lung disease risk that makes breathing difficult. In the worst case, chronic lung damage can lead to hospitalisation and the need for a ventilator to help a person breathe.

“At the very least, this work should open a frank debate on vaping safety,” Jose Bengoechea, director of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

E-cigarettes vapingGetty Images

In some cases, e-cigarette vapour led to more bacterial growth than cigarette smoke

The researchers found that cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapour caused similar amounts of S. pneumoniae, H. influenzae, and P. aeruginosa bacterium to grow. But when it came to S. aureus bacteria, which also causes skin infections like MRSA, they found the e-cigarette vapour led to significantly more bacteria growth than the cigarette smoke.

They also found that bacteria that was exposed to either cigarette smoke or e-cigarette vapour released more secretions that cause lung inflammation than the same bacteria that wasn’t exposed to any vapour or smoke.

There were limitations to the study. The researchers only looked at unflavored e-cigarette vapour, and suggested future research look at how various flavored vapors could differently affect the lungs since they contain added chemicals to create flavours like mint and mango. The chemicals vary based on the brand and flavour of each vape juice.

The researchers also noted that their study was imperfect because it didn’t use humans. Since they added smoke and vapour to bacteria in a lab, they were unable to account for how much smoke and vapour a person may actually inhale in one sitting, which could have skewed the results.

Still, the study adds to prior evidence that vaping is far from risk-free. Previous studies have shown that the devices contain chemicals, some that may not be listed on packaging, that can cause throat irritation and an increased risk of heart attack.

E-cigarettes have also been linked to asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. According to the CDC, 2,172 cases of vaping-related lung problems have been reported and at least 49 have resulted in death.

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