Scores of Africans attempting to stop smoking are switching to the electronic version. E-cigarettes, invented in 2003, gained popularity in countries like South Africa and Tanzania thereby igniting a debate over how to properly regulate the product.
In South Africa, members of the anti-tobacco lobby since November 2017 have been pushing for the inclusion of vaping into the country’s Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act. But vaping advocates disagree, saying that e-cigarettes have been successful in helping smokers desist from the harmful practice.
All over the world, countries like Britain have already embraced e-cigarettes, with over 850,000 smokers switching successfully from smoking to vaping in 2016. On the whole, it is believed that vaping is much safer than smoking, as users of e-cigarettes just puff on a battery-powered e-cigarette, which converts liquid into vapour that looks like smoke when you breathe it out.
There are even calls for the electronic devices to be sold in hospitals to help patients to stop using cigarettes permanently. But a new research has revealed that using e-cigarettes is not as safe as not smoking at all.
The study from the Queen Mary University of London found that the vapour from e-cigarettes could be as bad as traditional tobacco or even vehicle exhaust, with users more likely to get pneumonia.
Lead researcher, Jonathan Grigg, a professor of paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at the university, said the vapour from the devices helps pneumonia-causing bacteria stick to the cells that line the airways.
“Pneumococcal bacteria can exist in our airways without causing illness. However, in some cases, they can invade the lining cells causing pneumonia or septicaemia,” he said.
The researchers looked at the effect of e-cigarette vapour on a molecule produced by cells in the airways called platelet-activating factor receptor (PAFR).
They found that cells exposed to both nicotine-containing or nicotine-free vapour produced levels of PAFR that were three times higher.
The researchers subsequently exposed the cells to the pneumococcal bacteria and found that the number of bacteria that stuck to the airways doubled.
“Together, these results suggest that vaping makes the airways more vulnerable to bacteria sticking to airway lining cells. If this occurs when a vaper gets exposed to the pneumococcal bacterium, this could increase the risk of infection,” Professor Grig said.
But commenting on the latest study, Peter Openshaw, an experimental medicine professor at Imperial College London, said any evidence that vaping raised lung infection risk was “only indirect”.
“Although it is possible that vaping might increase susceptibility to pneumonia, the effect is likely to be lower than from smoking itself,” he said via the Science Media Centre.
“This study should not be used as a reason to continue to smoke rather than vape — the evidence to date is that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking.”
On the back of this research, concerns are being raised as to whether to treat vaping like smoking or treat both differently. For some people, we should start regulating the two separately according to the individual harm they cause. Lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, are now the deadliest disease in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Nearly a million children died from pneumonia in 2015, with 16% of global deaths of children younger than five being recorded. In the developed world it generally afflicts the elderly, but in the Global South, children are most affected, with progress in the fight against it not being enough.
So what do you make of this? Do you know any non-smoker who has picked up vaping? And what were the consequences? Let us know in the comment section below.