KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Electronic cigarettes have been touted as safe alternatives to regular cigarettes, but doctors warn that research shows otherwise.
"What we see, at least in our research, is the ability to clear mucus is pretty similar to inhaling tobacco smoke, and that is a warning sign for me," Dr. Matthias Salathe, the department chair of Internal Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, said.
Salathe is currently researching the effects of vaping on lungs by using a "vaping robot." The machine pulls vapor from an electronic cigarette and tests the effects on human cells obtained from deceased lung donors.
His latest research, published by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found vaping nicotine damaged the natural ability of the cells to clear out mucus.
"We see inflammation (in the lungs) that is similar to tobacco and cigarettes," he said.
Doctors are not just concerned with the long-term effects.
Hospital emergency rooms also are seeing an increase in patients with severe lung disease linked to vaping.
Last month, fourteen teenagers in Wisconsin and Illinois were hospitalized.
"What we are starting to see is kind of an increase in these severe effects that we don't see it in things like smoking," Dr. Stephen Thornton, medical director of the University of Kansas Health System Poison Control Center, said.
According to Thornton, there have been a handful of patients who have experienced sudden seizures possibly linked to vaping. The patients have either showed up in the emergency room or called the poison control center.
"We've seen individuals who have had seizures after starting vaping where, in the end, there is no other explanation then them starting vaping," he said. "We are seeing all of these weird things that we don't normally see with cigarettes, because of the high concentration and the ability to deliver very potently."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently investigating 127 reports of seizures or other neurological symptoms possibly related to e-cigarettes.
Investigators have yet to determine whether vaping directly can be linked to the cases.