Cigarettes contain addictive nicotine as well as carcinogenic substances such as tar. Cigarettes have long been associated with cancer and increased risks of cardiovascular diseases. Although the harmful effects of smoking cover a broad spectrum, its effects on the immune system are not widely known and hence there are very few researches regarding the effect of cigarettes on the immune system. A recently presented research finding at the American Thoracic Society’s International Meeting indicates that e-cigarettes and cigarettes not only increase the susceptibility to get infected by a viral organism, it also adversely affects the immune system. The research elucidates the impact of e-cigarettes on the smoker’s adaptive immunity.
The research on Cigarettes and e-cigarettes
Meghan E. Rebuli, Ph.D., A Leon and Bertha Golberg, Postdoctoral Fellow in toxicology and environmental medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Infectious Diseases in Children
To understand the effect of e-cigarettes and cigarettes on the immune system
Volunteers who smoke cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and non-smokers
All participants of each category were immunized with a live attenuated influenza vaccine. Tissue samples were collected before and after the immunization was performed. The samples were derived from blood, epithelial lining fluid, nasal lavage fluid, and nasal biopsies.
The response to the vaccination was found to be different in each category of cigarette smokers, e-cigarette smokers, and non-smokers.
Cigarette Smokers: Increased viral microRNA levels were found which seemed to be a result of increased cleavage action in the influenza peptides.
E-cigarette smokers: Suppression of the interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) pathway genes and proteins. These immune components are essential for the recruitment of immune cells to initiate an antiviral response. Suppression of IFN-gamma-inducible chemokines was observed in nasal lavage fluid as well as in the epithelial lining fluid post immunization with LAIV. E-cigarette smokers also had lower counts of influenza-specific immunoglobulin A in comparison with cigarette smokers and non-smokers.
Additionally, there was a notable difference in the immune system changes between males and females. Female e-cigarette users presented with immunosuppression whereas male e-cigarette users presented with changes in the gene expression of immune cells with a combined variation in immune genes up-regulation and down-regulation. The responses shown by males and females to viral infection was found to be surprisingly different.
“While both cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapor are inhaled, there is some evidence that suggests the immune system responds differently to these products, but no one has looked at e-cigarettes and viral infection,” said Rebuli.
Rebuli states that their research data is suggestive that e-cigarette users, especially female e-cigarette users, may experience increased risks of infection as any alteration in the normal immune function can significantly increase vulnerability to viral infections.
The research findings if presented in a simple language can allow young e-cigarette users to make well-informed decisions.
- Rebuli ME, et al. A4170/702. Presented at: ATS International Conference; May 17-22, 2019; Dallas.
- E-cigarettes may weaken immune system’s response to flu