Two separate reports giving conflicting advice on the long-term safety of electronic cigarettes are causing confusion for vapers, with the cases ‘for’ and ‘against’ both making headlines within days.

A study published in leading respiratory medicine journal Thorax suggests that using e-cigarettes could be more harmful than initially thought, in terms of damaging vital immune cells in the lungs. But MPs have called for them to be allowed on public transport and in other places, and claim the Government is ‘missing an opportunity’ in using them as a tool to help people quit smoking.

The small, experimental laboratory study, led by Prof David Thickett at the University of Birmingham, found that the vapour from e-cigarettes disabled important immune cells in the lungs and boosted inflammation. By mechanically mimicking vaping in the laboratory using lung tissue samples provided by eight non-smokers, the researchers found vapour caused inflammation and impaired the activity of cells that remove potentially damaging dust particles, bacteria and allergens.

Previous studies have focused on the chemical composition of e-cigarette liquid before it is vaped. The new study found some of the effects to be similar to those seen in regular smokers and people with chronic lung disease, although researchers said that further work is needed to better understand the long-term health impacts and recognised that the study ‘has limitations’, such as the recorded changes taking place over only 48 hours. But they nevertheless advised caution against continuing in the popular belief that e-cigarettes are safe.

Advice from Public Health England is that vaping is much less harmful than tobacco and that e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 people successfully giving up each year. A new House of Commons select committee report on e-cigarettes also raises the idea of them as being good for public health, with MPs arguing strongly in favour of vaping.

According to the Science and Technology Committee report, almost half a million smokers use e-cigarettes to help them give up smoking, with tens of thousands succeeding each year. The committee would like to see vaping treated differently to regular smoking on public transport and in other public places, and has called on the Government to allow e-cigarettes to be advertised as the ‘relatively less harmful option’.

E-cigarettes were introduced more than a decade ago and their use has risen dramatically. The nicotine vapour doesn’t contain the tar, chemicals or carbon monoxide of tobacco but, until the long-term effects are understood, you might want to read our article on how to quit smoking, which offers alternatives to kicking the habit and where you can get support.