Vapour from vapes may paralyse our immune cells and stop them working, study suggests

As e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular, particularly among young people, there have been increasing studies on the long-term health consequences associated with them
As e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular, particularly among young people, there have been increasing studies on the long-term health consequences associated with them Copyright Canva
By Oceane Duboust
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A new study has indicated that e-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, may have a paralysing effect on the body’s immune cells.

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A new worrying study indicates that even low exposure to e-cigarette vapour could impact immune cells.

E-cigarettes in recent years have become more popular, particularly among young people, but there have been increasing studies on the long-term health consequences associated with them.

Now, this new study says inhaling vapour from these colourful e-cigarettes could stop frontline immune cells called neutrophils from working normally.

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and they represent between 50 to 80 per cent of all the white blood cells in the human body.

"E-cigarettes are a proven, lower-harm tool to help smokers quit smoking but our data adds to current evidence that e-cigarettes are not harmless and highlights the need to fund longer-term studies in vapers," said lead author Aaron Scott, an associate professor in respiratory science at the University of Birmingham, in a statement.

The team extracted the neutrophils from the blood of people who had never smoked or vaped and then exposed those cells to 40 puffs of vape, which they say represents a low daily exposure.

E-cigarettes are a proven, lower-harm tool to help smokers quit smoking but our data adds to current evidence that e-cigarettes are not harmless.
Aaron Scott
Associate professor in respiratory science at the University of Birmingham

Half of the samples were exposed to vape containing nicotine, while the rest were exposed to nicotine-free alternatives.

In both groups, the neutrophils remained alive but were "stuck in place," making them unable to tackle threats to the body.

"We found that after short, low-level exposure to e-cigarette vapour, the cells remain alive but can no longer move as effectively and are unable to carry out their normal protective functions," said Scott.

"Interestingly, vapour from e-liquids which did not contain nicotine also had the same negative effects as vapour from e-liquids which did contain nicotine," Scott added.

The findings were published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

E-cigarette vapour paralysed immune cells

But how did the vapour freeze the cells?

When exposed to the e-cigarette vapour, researchers observed an excessive accumulation of the filament F-actin inside the neutrophils, preventing them from being effective.

In a normal neutrophil cell, actin, found as small protein filaments, rearranges itself into a network to help a cell change its shape. This function is used by immune cells so that they can move towards and surround threats to destroy them.

"Neutrophils normally protect the lungs by moving from the blood to the site of possible harm before using a number of protective functions to protect the lung," said co-author David Thickett, a professor in respiratory medicine at the University of Birmingham, in a statement.

"The observed impact that e-cigarette vapour had on their mobility is therefore of significant concern, and if this were to happen in the body would make those who regularly use e-cigarettes at greater risk of respiratory diseases," he said.

Though more research is needed to better understand vaping's consequences on health, "this work adds to the evidence challenging the perception that e-cigarettes are safe and cautions against the emerging trend of long-term e-cigarette usage," the study concluded.

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