Vaping still safer than smoking, say health bosses after report of severe lung injury

In a case reported in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a teenage boy in Nottingham developed life-threatening hypersensitivity pneumonitis after using e-cigarettes.

People should not be deterred from switching to vaping to stop smoking, experts have said. | GETTY IMAGES
People should not be deterred from switching to vaping to stop smoking, experts have said. | GETTY IMAGES

The teenager developed intractable respiratory failure and is now in recovery following life-saving treatment with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. His is the only confirmed case of vaping-associated lung injury to be reported so far among 3.6 million people vaping in the UK.

Dr Jayesh Bhatt, a consultant at Nottingham University Hospitals who treated the teenager, said: 'We consider e-cigarettes as 'much safer than tobacco' at our peril.'

However, Public Health England has reiterated its advice that vaping is 95% safer than smoking.

Rosanna O'Connor, director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco at PHE, said: 'Smoking kills half of lifelong smokers and accounts for almost 220 deaths in England every day. Our advice remains that while not completely risk free, UK regulated e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoked tobacco.'

Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical director of the British Lung Foundation, said: 'If people switch completely from smoking to vaping, they will substantially reduce their health risk as e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and any harmful components are present at a much lower level.

'People who do switch should try to quit vaping in the long term too but not at the expense of relapsing to smoking - and non-smokers should not take up vaping.'

Prof John Britton, the director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, at the University of Nottingham, added: 'This is worrying, and the risk needs to be acknowledged, but in absolute terms it is extremely small and, crucially, far smaller than that of smoking. The advice remains the same: if you smoke, switch to vaping; if you don't smoke, don't vape.'

US reports

Vaping-related lung injury was first reported in the US, where there have now been 2051 cases and 39 deaths. Researchers there say most cases are connected to use of products containing THC, the main psychoactive molecule in cannabis.

It is thought the lung injury may be caused by a reaction to vitamin E acetate, an ingredient in some vaping liquids which is not permitted in e-cigarettes in the UK. US researchers found the additive in all 29 samples of lung fluid they tested from affected patients.

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