Vaping is no safer than tobacco cigarettes, according to a Tasmanian researcher, who's concerned the devices are being marketed as a smoking cessation tool, despite known health impacts.
Whether newly introduced electronic smoking devices are a safe alternative to help someone stop smoking and the wider implications amid COVID-19 will be the focus of new research.
Led by Dr Sukhwinder Sohal, with $80,000 in funding from the Clifford Craig Foundation, the project will evaluate the effects of nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, in inducing airway inflammation and the associates risks of lung cancer.
It will also investigate the susceptibility of these changes, in relation to making people more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Dr Sohal, head of the University of Tasmania's Respiratory Translational Research Group, said e-cigarettes were increasingly being marketed towards young people to become long-term users.
"They [tobacco companies] are promoting it as a smoking cessation tool, but actually it's not a smoking cessation policy. It's basically a policy to have more users," he said.
"Because nicotine is a drug - once you are hooked onto it, you've got a long-term customer. And it's very much targeted to the young people.
"In work we have done so far, we tested some of the samples available from tobacco shops in Launceston, which goes into these electronic gadgets and they're quite toxic."
Dr Sohal's research will evaluate changes to human lung samples, collected in Tasmania, when stimulated by the vapour produced by e-cigarettes.
It will also build on existing research, published last year in the European Respiratory Journal of Open Research, that showed vaping and heat-not-burn products, were just as toxic to the lungs as conventional cigarettes.
Additionally, recent research published by Dr Sohals research group in the American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology in November this year also showed smokers and patients with COPD were more vulnerable to COVID-19.
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With use of e-cigarettes expected to surpass the global use of traditional cigarettes in the next five years - with global sales reaching US$10 billion - Dr Sohal hopes his additional research will generate increased awareness of the risks, to better inform policy makers.
"Moving forward, I think it's really important that medical research is funded in this direction, because the research we have done so far is still in early days," he said.
"So more research is needed so we have more evidence and we can inform the community, health organisations, government that this is actually a bad thing - it's not a healthy option.
"Something is either harmful or it's not harmful. Something might cause cancer in five days, another thing might cause cancer in six days. But it's still poison at the end of the day.
"So, lets not get burnt all over again."
Dr Sohal's study is one of six projects funded as part of the Clifford Craig Foundation's 2021 medical research grants.