Electronic cigarettes cause damage to the lungs, according to a study that challenges earlier research suggesting the devices to quit smoking are harmless.
E-cigarettes, electronic tubes that simulate the effect of smoking by producing nicotine vapor, caused an immediate increase in airway resistance, lasting for 10 minutes, making it harder for participants to breathe, researchers from the University of Athens said in a study presented at the European Respiratory Society annual meeting in Vienna today.
The researchers used a lung function test to observe airway resistance in 32 participants who used an e-cigarette for 10 minutes. Among the healthy subjects who had never smoked, airway resistance rose to an average 206 percent from 182 percent; among smokers with normal lung function, the reading rose to an average 220 percent from 176 percent.
“We do not yet know whether unapproved nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, are safer than normal cigarettes, despite marketing claims that they are less harmful,” Christina Gratziou, one of the study authors, said in a statement. “This research helps us to understand how these products could be potentially harmful.”
More research is needed to understand whether the effect on the lungs is long-lasting, Gratziou said.
Gratziou’s study supports the European Respiratory Society’s position on e-cigarettes and other emerging nicotine delivery products, Klaus Rabe, the group’s president, told reporters today in Vienna.
“ERS does not classify e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking nor does it consider them an approved tobacco cessation tool,” Rabe reiterated from the society’s statement in February. “ERS recommends following effective smoking cessation treatment guidelines based on clinical evidence which do not advocate the use of such products.”
The study follows a separate paper presented last month by researchers at the Athens-based Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting that said e-cigarettes prompted no adverse effects on cardiac function.
Previous studies have found that the electronic devices would have to be smoked daily for four to 12 months to achieve the levels of carcinogenic nitrosamines that are present in a single tobacco cigarette, said the researchers for that paper. Industry-wide e-cigarette sales this year are likely to double from $250 million in 2011, according to UBS AG.
Electronic cigarettes, which mimic the look and feel of traditional versions without generating smoke and ash, are one of the few smoking alternatives that provide users with their chemical need for nicotine and reproduce the psychological effect of holding and smoking a cigarette, the Onassis researchers said.
Makers of the battery-powered devices include Lorillard Inc., a Greensboro, North Carolina-based producer of standard cigarettes, which acquired Blu Ecigs for $135 million in April. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to impose rules on the testing and production of e-cigarettes.
About 2.5 million people use e-cigarettes in the U.S., according to an estimate by the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.