Study links lung conditions to young people who vape

One charity estimates 4.7 million adults in Britain vape (PA)
One charity estimates 4.7 million adults in Britain vape (PA)

Vaping places young people more at risk of bronchitis and shortness of breath even if they also smoke, researchers suggest.

A study in the US, published in respiratory and critical care journal Thorax, tracked the respiratory health of young people in the Southern California Children’s Health Study between 2014 and 2018.

Some 2,097 young people with an average age of 17 completed the first poll in 2014, followed by 1,609 of the group in 2015, 1,502 in 2017 and 1,637 in 2018.

Each survey asked about past 30-day vape and cigarette use, with cannabis use added for the 2017 questionnaire.

Researchers also included questions on bronchitic symptoms, such as a daily cough for three months in a row, as well as wheezing and shortness of breath.

Bronchitic symptoms were reported by 19.5% of people included in the first survey, with 22.5%, 23.5% and 26% reporting it in subsequent questionnaires.

In the first three surveys, 11.7%, 11.8% and 11% of young people had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, with the figure rising to 15.5% in the final survey.

Researchers said the odds of wheeze were 81% more likely among past 30-day e-cigarette users than among never users. The odds of bronchitic symptoms were twice as likely, while those of shortness of breath were 78% more likely after accounting for survey wave, age, sex, race and parental education.

They concluded that the study “showed that e-cigarette use was associated with respiratory symptoms after accounting for concurrent cigarette and cannabis use as well as secondhand exposure to each of these products and secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes”.

“The results strengthen epidemiological evidence of adverse respiratory effects of e-cigarettes that is consistent with known effects of e-cigarette ingredients.”

Researchers also said their findings contribute to “emerging evidence from human and toxicological studies that e-cigarettes cause respiratory symptoms that warrant consideration in regulation of e-cigarettes”.

Jon Foster, policy manager at Asthma + Lung UK, said it is “interesting” the study found a link between vaping and lung conditions in young people, but pointed out the regulation around the amount of nicotine and chemicals used in e-cigarettes is “much tighter” in the UK than the US.

“More research would be needed to find out if the situation in the UK is the same,” he added.

“However, given that we still know little about long-term effects, the growing popularity of vaping among children and young people is concerning.”

Vaping survey
Ministers have called for tighter restrictions on vape packaging (Nicholas Ansell/PA)

There have been mounting calls for tighter restrictions on the packaging and marketing of e-cigarettes in England to make the habit less appealing to children.

Last month the Health and Social Care Committee said the Government should consider bringing in plain packaging for vapes in line with other tobacco products.

In June, NHS figures revealed 40 children and young people were admitted to hospital in England last year for “vaping-related disorders”, up from 11 two years earlier.

Mr Foster added: “Much stronger action is needed from the Government, especially to prevent under-18s accessing vapes.

“Our advice is that only those who smoke and are looking to give up tobacco should use vapes, as they are known to be an effective way to quit. We do not recommend that anyone else take up vaping.”

Charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) estimates 9.1% (4.7 million) of adults in Britain vape.

Of those, 2.7 million are ex-smokers, 1.7 million are current smokers and 320,000 have never smoked.

Commenting on the new study, an Ash spokesperson said: “Smokers in this study had the highest risk of respiratory symptoms as would be expected.

“Smoking is known to cause respiratory symptoms and harm young people’s developing lungs.

“Vapers also had an elevated risk but as the study does not fully report the smoking history of these vapers it is difficult to know what effect may be from smoking and what from vaping.

“Adult smokers should not be put off from vaping as an alternative to smoking – it is less harmful to vape than smoke and is likely to reduce respiratory symptoms among smokers who fully switch.”