A young woman vaping. (Courtesy/Shutterstock)

They’re often portrayed as healthier alternatives to cigarettes, but a new study suggests that e-cigarettes may not be as safe as they seem. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, have warned that e-cigarettes with heating elements can cause ‘significant’ damage to the lungs. In the study, the researchers carried out a large-scale study to explore the effects of e-cigarette and other vaping produces on the cardiovascular system.

While conducting experiments, the researchers found that people who used e-cigarettes with nickel-chromium alloy heating elements experienced lung injury. Dr Robert Kloner, senior author of the study, said: “The results were so impactful, we felt it imperative to release the initial findings early so that electronic cigarette users could be cautioned sooner, especially considering E-cigarette users are at increased risk of COVID-19.”

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Until September 2019, most e-cigarettes featured a stainless steel heating system. However, more and more e-cigarettes are now being sold with nickel-chromium alloy heating elements. Dr Michael Kleinman, a researcher on the project, said: “Within an hour of beginning an experiment, we observed evidence of severe respiratory distress, including laboured breathing, wheezing and panting.

“After analysing lung tissue from subjects in the study, we found them to be severely compromised and observed other serious changes such as lung lesions, red blood cell congestion, obliteration of alveolar spaces, and pneumonitis in some cases.”

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The researchers hope the findings will spark additional studies into the effects of e-cigarettes on the lungs. Dr Kloner added: “While further research is needed, these results indicate that specific devices and power settings may play a key role in the development of EVALI [e-cig or vaping product use-associated lung injury] as much as the additives do. The harms associated with E-cigarettes and vaping simply cannot be overstated."