E-cigarettes do pose a risk to health, a major review of their safety has found.
Vaping can worsen heart disease and lung disorders while the risks posed by inhaling flavouring ingredients are still ‘unknown’, according to the government backed research.
The independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) said e-cigarettes should only be used as a stop-smoking aid.
The report warned users who do not already use tobacco products ‘risk negative effects on their health’ by vaping.
Health threats to bystanders were considered low but people can suffer an increased heart rate from high nicotine exposure, if stood close to someone vaping, it said.
A report ordered by the Department of Health in the UK found that vaping, which is touted as a healthier alternative to smoking, would be a harmful choice unless replacing cigarettes (stock image)
Professor Alan Boobis, Chair of the COT, said it was wrong to consider the devices as ‘harmless’.
He said: ‘Our assessment on e-cigarettes largely reinforces the scientific consensus to date on their relative safety, that while not without risk they are significantly less harmful than smoking.
‘On the types of effects, our assessment shows that e-cigarette users might experience similar types of effects on their health as can occur from smoking conventional cigarettes, such as an increase in signs of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, particularly in those suffering from these conditions, or local irritation such as a burning sensation in the throat, nose, or eyes.
‘But our study does provide reassurance that the health risks to bystanders from the vapour is generally low.’
The report was ordered by the Department of Health to assess the potential risk of e-cigarettes to human health.
Many health experts view them as a crucial tool in the fight against tobacco, leading Public Health England to repeatedly endorse the devices.
But others are concerned about unresolved safety concerns and their use by young people in particular.
Around 3.6million adults in Britain have used e-cigarettes in the decade or so they have been available on the market.
More than one in ten ex-smokers in Britain vape and the number of young people who vape is rising, according to latest estimates.
Switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes is likely to reduce health risks but highlights that some risks will be reduced more than others, the research found.
For example, the risk of developing lung cancer is likely to be reduced more than the risk of triggering asthma symptoms, it said.
But it warned the long-term health implications are still unclear because of their recent use, with a lack of information on possible adverse health effects following long-term use.
‘It is currently not known what effects might occur, and whether these will be the same as the effects caused by cigarette smoking,’ it said.
Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, reader of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London, said further work was needed to identify any toxic components in e-cigarette vapour to ‘minimise the remaining risk as far as possible.’
He added: ‘No serious authority suggests that vaping is completely harmless, so people should try to quit vaping too if they can in the long-term, though not at the expense of going back to smoking.’
Public health officials said they would continue to recommend the devices as a stop-smoking aid but that the devices would remain under review.
Martin Dockrell, of Public Health England said: ‘E-cigarettes aren’t risk free but they are far less harmful than smoking.
‘COT’s review of the health risks of e-cigarettes adds to the scientific evidence that supports this view.’
VAPING CHEMICALS ‘MIX TO FORM NEW TOXIC COMBINATIONS’
The chemicals produced by e-cigarettes combine inside people’s lungs to make entirely new combinations that are toxic to living cells, scientists have found.
Chemicals that produce flavours such as vanilla, berry and cinnamon can mix up with other solvents in the gadgets and become a danger to health.
‘We consistently observed that the new chemicals formed from the flavours and e-liquid solvents were more toxic than either of their parent compounds,’ said Professor Sven-Eric Jordt, a pharmacologist at Duke University in North Carolina.
He and colleagues at Yale University isolated chemicals used in e-cigarettes and put them onto human lung cells in a lab.
The cells were those that occur in the lining of the bronchi, which are the main airways that connect the windpipe to the insides of the lungs.
Chemicals they looked at included the flavourings vanillin, ethyl-vanillin, benzaldehyde, cinnamaldehyde, and the solvents propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine.
The team said that e-cigarette manufacturers often claim that their devices are safe because they contain chemicals considered to be stable.
But when they mix inside the devices, Professor Jordt and colleague found, they form unstable compounds which could then go on to damage healthy cells.
They appeared to irritate receptors in nerve endings linked to the heart and blood vessels, and also to actually be able to kill cells in the lungs.
Damaging effects could be seen even when the vapour was breathed in in low quantities.
The scientists said they were surprised by what they saw in the lab because they did not expect the chemicals to become more unstable and dangerous as they mixed.
‘Activation of sensory irritant receptors can increase the heart rate and, in predisposed people, can lead to an irregular heartbeat and higher blood pressure,’ said Professor Jordt.
‘It can also increase secretions in the nasal passages and throughout the lungs and airways, leading to coughing and breathing difficulties.’