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expert reaction to research on ecig vapour, cigarette smoke and bacteria using moths and human cells

Research, published in Respiratory Research, reports on exposure to ecig vapour, cigarette smoke and bacteria in moths and human cells.


Prof Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said:

“This work complements previous studies showing that exposure of airway cells to e-cigarette vapour increases bacterial adhesion. This study now suggests that e cigarette vapour not only makes airway cells stickier for bacteria – but it has direct effects on the bacteria itself which increases its ability to stay in the airways for long periods of time.”


Prof John Britton, Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies and Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, University of Nottingham, said:

“This study suggests that people who vape may be at increased risk of respiratory infection, as we know is the case for tobacco smoking, but whether this translates into practically relevant effects in humans (the investigators have studied infection in moths, not people) remains to be seen.”


Dr Nick Hopkinson, Reader in Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, said:

“Most people using e-cigarettes are doing do so to try to cut down and quit smoking. Vaping is much less harmful than smoking, but is not completely without risk so people who have switched across to vaping should try to quit vaping too, though not at the risk of going back to smoking. Non-smokers should avoid vaping, and especially avoid illicit products and cannabis oil.

“Although this laboratory study suggests that vaping may increase factors in bacteria that increase the risk of infection, it is important to note that in clinical trials where people switched from smoking to vaping, this was associated with a reduction in cough and phlegm production1.”



Prof Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said:

“The study explores an interesting topic, but as with all such experiments using petri dishes, moths, and huge levels of exposure, the question arises as to how this translates to humans. Some evidence from humans exists, and it points in the opposite direction. Not only do smokers with respiratory illness who switch to vaping seem to experience at least the same improvements as unaided quitters, there are some signs that vaping may in fact protect vapers from respiratory infections. Smokers who switch to vaping report a strong decrease in respiratory infections and a recent study found that ex-smokers who vape experience stronger improvements in signs of respiratory infections than those who do not vape. More evidence is needed, but human studies should provide clearer answers.

“It would be misleading to link the study to the recent outbreak of lung injury in the US. The US outbreak is caused by contaminants in bootleg marijuana cartridges and has nothing to do with nicotine e-cigarettes used by smokers in this country.”


‘Electronic cigarette vapour increases virulence and inflammatory potential of respiratory pathogens’ by Deirdre Gilpin et al. was published in Respiratory Research at 1am UK time on Wednesday 18 December 2019. 

DOI: 10.1186/s12931-019-1206-8


Declared interests

Dr Hopkinson is also the Medical Director of the British Lung Foundation

No others to declare. 

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