New research shows that bacteria commonly found in the lungs become more harmful and cause more inflammation when they exposed to e-cigarette vapor. In fact, the researchers say there is “little difference” between vaping and smoking in terms of risk from harmful lung bacteria and associated disease.

“Bacteria have long been associated with the development of lung diseases such as bronchitis and pneumonia where smoking plays a role,” lead author Dr. Deirdre Gilpin of the Queen’s University School of Pharmacy said in a press release. “Our study is the first of its kind which aimed to compare the effect of cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapor on key lung bacteria.”

Many vapers are fomer smokers, although this is not always the case. According to the World Health Organization WHO, the overall numbers of people smoking traditional cigarettes has been decreasing worldwide. The number of vapers has meanwhile been growing.

Risks from harmful lung bacteria

This study compared how exposure to both e-cigarette vapor and traditional cigarette smoke changes the virulency of common lung bacteria. Specifically, the team hoped to see how much this kind of bacteria increased levels of inflammation in the presence of smoke compared to e-cigarette vapor.

They found that exposure to both kinds of compounds—vapor and traditional cigarette smoke—caused an rise in potential lung damage from bacteria. The increase in both cases had the potential to cause more common diseases such as asthma and COPD.

The scientists did not explore rarer lung damage and diseases. However, harm from things like asthma and COPD can place patients at risk for other problems.

The team found that the changes the patients experienced were similar, as are the risks for damage from harmful lung bacteria for smokers and vapers.

Dr. Gilpin concluded in the release: “This study shows us that vaping may carry the same risk as cigarette smoke in increasing the susceptibility to bacterial infection.”

The team concludes the study by calling for a discussion of e-cigarette safety and more research.