Doctors have warned that we underplay the health impact of vaping ‘at our peril’ after a British teenager almost died from serious respiratory failure linked to e-cigarettes.
Ewan Fisher was 16 when he was treated at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust for “catastrophic” respiratory failure and ended up on life support.
He was treated for hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) – a type of allergic reaction that results in inflammation of the lung tissue. He became so ill that doctors gave him extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (Ecmo), an exterior artificial lung that puts oxygen into the blood and pumps it around the body.
In the UK, you must be 18 or over to purchase e-cigarettes or e-liquids. Fisher, who turns 19 this week, was under age when he was sold vaping equipment over the counter at a local shop and had been vaping for four to five months when he was taken ill, wrote the doctors who treated him.
Their report, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, comes after details emerged of multiple teens being hospitalised in the US after using flavoured e-cigarettes. This is the most publicised case of its kind in the UK, where health officials have previously suggested that vaping statistically poses fewer health risks than smoking.
Dr Jayesh Mahendra Bhatt, a consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, who treated Fisher, told PA Media: “The evidence we gathered showed that it was (vaping) that was to blame. I know at least one colleague who has seen a similar case.”
Scientists are becoming increasingly divided over the harms of vaping to human health. Public Health England (PHE) says non-smokers should not try vaping, but smokers would be far healthier if they made the switch to e-cigarettes.
In this new study, doctors said Fisher, who was previously a smoker, was admitted to hospital following a week of fever, a persistent cough and increasing difficulty with breathing. His condition deteriorated rapidly and when he developed respiratory failure, he was put on Ecmo plus intravenous antibiotics and steroids.
Ten days later, his condition became critical and he developed severe muscle weakness, requiring a long period of rehabilitation. The teenager told medics he had recently started to use e-cigarettes “fairly frequently, using two different liquids, purchased over the counter”.
The listed ingredients for both vaping liquids were the same apart from the unnamed flavourings. After 14 months, Fisher eventually recovered.
The doctors said the case held two important lessons: “The first is always to consider a reaction to e-cigarettes in someone presenting with an atypical respiratory illness. The second is that we consider e-cigarettes as ‘much safer than tobacco’ at our peril.”
Rosanna O’ Connor, director of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and justice at PHE, said: “We continue to keep the evidence under review, including all safety and health concerns reported to the e-cigarette regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“However, smoking kills half of life-long smokers and accounts for almost 220 deaths in England every day. Our advice remains that while not completely risk free, UK regulated e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoked tobacco.”