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E-cigarette user diagnosed with lung disease normally found in metal workers

Hard-metal pneumoconiosis can result in permanent scarring in patients’ lungs with symptoms such as breathing difficulties and chronic coughing.

Previous studies have also uncovered these metals in vapour from other vapes, with researchers believing that the metals are coming from heating coils found in vaping devices rather than any kind of refill.

Dr Rupal Shah, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UCAL, said: “Exposure to cobalt dust is extremely rare outside of a few specific industries.

“This is the first known case of a metal-induced toxicity in the lung that has followed from vaping and it has resulted in long-term, probably permanent, scarring of the patient’s lungs.

“We think that only a rare subset of people exposed to cobalt will have this reaction, but the problem is that the inflammation caused by hard metal would not be apparent to people using e-cigarettes until the scarring has become irreversible, as it did with this patient.”

Study author Professor Kirk Jones, Clinical Professor of Pathology at the university, said:: “People who vape are often looking for a safer alternative to smoking. But as lung physicians, it is our job to be concerned about the substances that are inhaled into the lung, particularly those substances that can bypass our usual defence mechanisms such as these ultra-fine mists.”

The research is published today in an editorial in the European Respiratory Journal.

But Dr Nick Hopkinson, Reader in Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, said the higher temperatures involved in vaping cannabis oil might explain the link. 

He said:  “Following on from the outbreak of lung disease in the US that has been linked to vaping cannabis oil, this case provides further reason to avoid it.

“The higher temperature involved in vaping cannabis oil compared to normal products may increase the risk that metal from the heating element is inhaled. 

“People who are vaping in the UK should only use products regulated by the MHRA. Although vaping is much safer than smoking cigarettes, people who do vape should try to quit that too in the long term – but not at the expense of going back to smoking.”

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