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New Delhi: A new study has deemed vaping e-cigarettes as less harmful than smoking tobacco-based cigarettes, and even beneficial for some respiratory symptoms. It has been led by an Italian researcher who has been funded by two pharma majors in the past.

At a time when a death due to a mysterious respiratory illness has been reported in the US and health officials are investigating to determine if it is tied to e-cigarettes, the new research says the acute reactions noted among smokers after using e-cigarettes included just mild throat irritation, dry cough and other respiratory irritations.

“There is no evidence to suggest that such irritation may lead to clinically significant adverse lung effects… It is probably not indicative of negative health outcomes,” said the study published earlier this month in medical journal Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine.

Led by Riccardo Polosa, director, Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction, University of Catania, Italy, the research found that “no significant changes in pulmonary function” were reported in a five-day confinement test of 105 healthy smokers.

Another trial of 387 healthy smokers also reported “no significant changes in pulmonary function tests” after 12 weeks of smoking, according to the study.

However, in a declaration of conflict at the bottom of the research paper, Polosa clarified that he has received funding from Pfizer and GSK — drug companies manufacturing stop-smoking medications — in the past, and has served as a consultant for the former.

E-cigarettes improved respiratory symptoms, study finds 

According to the new research, a one-year randomised controlled trial of smokers with normal lung function switching to e-cigarettes found no changes in health, and actually reported improvements in respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath.

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The study also observed progressive normalisation of airways function among those who completely gave up cigarette smoking while smoking e-cigarettes.

“Smokers switching from conventional cigarettes to combustion-free nicotine containing products like e-cigarette quickly and universally leads to normalization in exhaled carbon monoxide (CO) levels. However, when assessing respiratory health, it is of utmost importance to disentangle health effects driven by chronic exposure to e-cigarette’s aerosol emissions from those related to previous smoking history,” it said.

It also showed that use of e-cigarettes was well tolerated among asthma patients, and exposure to e-liquid aerosol in this vulnerable group didn’t trigger any asthma attacks.

Further, for smokers with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the study determined that there was no deterioration in respiratory physiology in patients who quit or substantially reduced their tobacco consumption by switching to e-cigarettes.

However, the impact on long-term respiratory outcomes is less clear, it added.

Also read: Vaping on the rise, doctors blame it for spurt in cases of breathing disorders among youth

India planning to ban e-cigarettes soon

The new University of Catania findings come amid overwhelmingly critical studies on the adverse impacts of e-cigarettes, which may even contain cancer-causing chemicals.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex research body, has already recommended a complete ban on e-cigarettes after finding them unsafe and highly addictive. The government is planning to ban the manufacture, import and domestic sale of e-cigarettes.

“Use of ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) or e-cigarettes has documented adverse effects on humans, which include DNA damage; carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity; respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders; and adverse impact on fetal development and pregnancy,” the ICMR said in its study released in May this year.

Several other studies have echoed similar concerns. According to one, smoking “vapors inflame mouth cells in ways that could potentially promote gum disease”. Others have suggested that “the vapors mess with immunity”.

Explaining this divergence, Polosa’s study said, “Surveys rely on self-report of respiratory symptoms and respiratory illnesses which can be inaccurate, and surveys fail to consider relevant key confounders, particularly smoking history, and other factors such as vaping frequency and duration…”

Also read: Flavours, cool tricks, & even earning money: Vaping isn’t just about quitting tobacco


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