Vaping linked to over 200 health problems, but still safer than smoking

According to a health watchdog dossier, vaping has been linked to hundreds of health problems in the UK over the last five years, including heart conditions, chest pain and pneumonia.

The watchdog, called the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), says it has received 74 reports of health problems thought to be related to the habit since 2014. According to a breakdown of the data, 49 of the 74 health problems classified as “serious.”

Woman vapingeldar nurkovic | Shutterstock

Experts call for national recording system

Experts are now calling for every e-cigarette-related health problem to be recorded in a national system. The use of e-cigarettes has already been banned in India, Brazil, Thailand and Singapore.

Two hundred health problems were recorded in 74 separate “Yellow Card” reports filed with the MHRA by healthcare professionals and members of the public.

The data has been released following accusations that officials have been downplaying the risk of vaping-related illnesses “spreading” from the US to Britain.

In the US, investigators are assessing at least 12 cases of death and 805 cases of lung injury suspected to be related to vaping. Public Health England (PHE) has said that most of these cases were linked to the use of illicit vaping fluids such as those containing the cannabis component THC.

The organization also emphasized that safety regulations are tighter in the UK, although some experts are sceptical about the notion that the problem is specific to America.

The problem is not just “an American phenomenon”

Stanton Gantz, Director of the Center for Tobacco Control and Education at the University of California, says dismissing vaping-related lung disease as “an American phenomenon,” is simply wrong: “To argue that the health effects being observed somehow stop at the water line when you move on to the British Isles is silly.”

Gantz referred to the case of a 34-year old woman who was diagnosed with lipoid pneumonia at a hospital in Birmingham in 2016.

According to a case report published in The British Medical Journal, the woman was advised to stop vaping after an e-cig component called vegetable glycerine was identified as the cause.

The announcement also comes as the death of a 57-year old British man in 2011 was linked to vaping after doctors found e-cigarette oil in his lungs. The man’s wife has since criticized health watchdogs in the UK for claims they have made about the safety of e-cigarettes.

The Yellow Card reports cannot necessarily be attributed to vaping

The MHRA says the reports it is currently reviewing are not concrete proof of the side effects of vaping, but that the people reporting them are attributing them to vaping.

Lung disease consultant, Gareth Walters (University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust), says we cannot yet assess the risk because there is not enough information.  

A spokesperson for the MHRA said:

The MHRA assesses all reports received in association with nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and should any potential safety concerns be identified we will take appropriate action to protect public health.”

Vaping still safer than smoking, says PHE

PHE also advises that vaping is still far safer than smoking, which claims the lives of almost 100,000 people in the UK every year. In 2018, the estimated number of adult smokers in Britain was almost 7.2 million.  

“It would be tragic if smokers who could quit with the help of e-cigarettes did not do so because of false fears about their safety,” says PHE’s director of health improvement, John Newton.

According to a survey conducted earlier this year, an estimated 3.6 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes. Users of the products have been advised to monitor any shortness of breath or signs of coughing or fever.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


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