Vaping may cause lung scarring commonly found in metal workers

A new case study out of Europe is warning that electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices may cause lung scarring commonly only found in metal workers. The research has been published by the European Lung Foundation, which says hard-metal pneumoconiosis — a rare lung disease that results from inhaling hard metal particles — has been identified in a person who used vaping devices.

Hard metals are ones that include tungsten and cobalt; exposure to particles from these metals can happen in jobs that involve shaping them, such as among people who create dental prosthetics or sharpen tools. The latest research reveals that vaping may also expose one's lungs to these harmful particles, paving the way for a serious and rare lung condition.

The scarring from hard-metal pneumoconiosis results in trouble breathing and cannot be cured. The patient detailed in the newly disclosed case study is believed to be the first person identified with this disease that has been linked with vape use rather than metalwork.

Researchers working on the case tested the electronic cigarette used by the patient and found that its vapor contained some toxic metals, including lead, chromium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and aluminum.

It's likely that many other vaping products share similar metal vapors due to how these devices are constructed — a metal coil is wrapped around a wick, such as cotton, and it is heated to very high temperatures using a battery. The high temperature vaporizes the liquid solution, but may also produce toxic metal vapors that are inhaled.

Of particular concern is that inflammation caused by metal exposure in these vapors won't be noticeable to the person who vapes until they have developed irreversible lung scarring, according to one of the researchers behind the case study. Due to the risk of cobalt exposure, among other things, the European Respiratory Society isn't recommending the use of electronic cigarettes as a method to quit smoking.