Popular e-cigarettes could 'trigger dangerous damage to brain and heart’

Popular e-cigarettes could 'trigger dangerous damage to brain and heart’

E-CIGARETTES are capable of causing dangerous damage to the brain, heart, and gut, researchers have warned.

The gadgets are helpful for quitting smoking but are also used by people who have never touched a cigarette.

Researchers at University of California (USC) San Diego School of Medicine looked at a popular brand sold across the UK and US.

JUUL is a leading but controversial e-cigarette device on the market.

This study, published in the journal eLife, is the first to assess how JUUL devices might affect organs.

Dr Laura Crotty Alexander, senior study author at USC, said: “These pod-based e-cigarettes have only become popular in the last five or so years, so we don’t know much about their long-term effects on health.”

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The study involved modelling daily use of JUUL pods in the most popular flavours mint and mango.

Adult mice were exposed to JUUL aerosols three times a day for three months, Scienmag reported.

Researchers then looked at signs of inflammation in the rodents, finding a number of concerning changes.

The most striking effects were in the brain, where several inflammatory markers were elevated. 

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Inflammation was evident in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region critical for motivation and reward-processing. 

This was particularly worrying, scientists said, because inflammation in this brain region is linked to anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours.

Dr Crotty Alexander said: “Many JUUL users are adolescents or young adults whose brains are still developing.

“So it’s pretty terrifying to learn what may be happening in their brains considering how this could affect their mental health and behaviour down the line.”

Inflammatory gene expression also increased in the colon, particularly after one month of e-cigarette exposure.

In theory this could increase risk of gastrointestinal disease. 

The heart may become more vulnerable to infection, the authors claimed.

The organ showed decreased levels of inflammatory markers which could put it into a state of immunosuppression.

Gene expression in the lungs was evident after inhalation of the vape liquid.

“These changes are most ominous for their likelihood of altering the lungs responses to challenges, such as bacteria, viruses, smoke and pollution,” the paper warned.

It said that the long-term effects of vaping on the lungs will not be clear for years to come, because products such as JUUL are relatively new.

A “real surprise” was that the effects of vaping appeared to vary depending on the JUUL flavour.

Mice that were exposed to the mint JUUL aerosols were more likely to be sensitive to the effects of pneumonia, for example.

“This shows us that the flavour chemicals themselves are also causing pathological changes,” Dr Crotty Alexandra said.

“If someone who frequently uses menthol-flavoured JUUL e-cigarettes was infected with Covid-19, it’s possible their body would respond differently to the infection.”

All that bad?

Many experts will argue that the health impact of vaping is overestimated.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is tomorrow publishing a report that argues there is too much precaution around the products, rather than their benefits, and this may put people off quitting smoking.

IEA Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon said: "Like many scare stories about vaping, this study is based on an experiment on mice.

"There is plenty of evidence of that vaping is largely harmless to people and it is vastly safer than smoking.

"Unfortunately, smokers are being scared off vaping by the torrent of junk science coming from America where two-thirds of the population now believe that e-cigarettes are as bad as – or worse than – smoking.

"Such ignorance is a devastating indictment of public health leadership."

As a means to quit smoking, the devices have shown to be largely successful compared to other methods, such as nicotine patches. 

The NHS backs the small kits and is soon to prescribe them.

But health officials acknowledge that, although e-cigarettes are safer than smoking, they are not harm-free. 

There are fears that e-cigarettes are getting young people – who would have otherwise not smoked cigarettes – hooked on nicotine.

Researchers from USC have previously warned that the exciting flavours, such as fruit or desserts, kept young people vaping for longer.

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However, a report from Action on Smoking and Health in 2021 revealed that despite concerns, use of e-cigarettes in teenagers is low (around 12 per cent) and is not increasing.

It reported that 95 per cent of young e-cigarette users in the UK were current or former smokers, not those who had never touched nicotine products previously.

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