Four Out of Five E-cigarette Users Exhibit Cancer-Causing DNA Damage, Warns Study

The tobacco-less alternative once touted as healthier than its predecessor may be worse for us than we think.
Mario L. Major

In the area of social media as well as health, one of the most widely trending items has been the electronic cigarette- and with other nicknames like e-cigarettes, vape pens or vaporizer cigarettes, it's not difficult to see why. The devices, developed as a healthier and more guilt-free alternative to smoking, offer the same sensation of the drag and release of real a cigarette with supposedly less negative effects.


Worse than once thought

A report released by a group of researchers today, however, shows that the tobacco-less alternative may be worse for us than we think. The findings from the research study will be presented today at this week's National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The researchers carried out their work by assessing the extent of oral DNA damage suffered by research subjects by using mass spectrometry. The results were rather surprising.

They found that the presence of acrolein, formaldehyde and methyglyoxal, all central components in damaging DNA, increased across the board compared to subjects who did not "vape" or use the e-cigarettes. The progressive cell degradation caused by the interaction between these compounds and a person's DNA is one of the leading causes of cancer. 

And the difference between vapers and non-vapers was not small! Four of the five e-cigarette users showed increased DNA damage related to DNA-damaging components in comparison to non-smokers.

Romel Dator, Ph.D., who will be one of the presenters today, stated that the real issue with e-cigarettes is that more research needs to be done to disover the true effects that it has on users over time, making the team's research aims clear: "We want to characterize the chemicals that vapers are exposed to, as well as any DNA damage they may cause."

Still better than cigarettes

Co-presenter and lead investigator on the project Silvia Balbo, Ph.D., was also unrestrained in her criticism of e-cigarettes, echoing Dator's views about the need for testing. "It's clear that more carcinogens arise from the combustion of tobacco in regular cigarettes than from the vapor of e-cigarettes," she said.

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"However, we don't really know the impact of inhaling the combination of compounds produced by this device. Just because the threats are different doesn't mean that e-cigarettes are completely safe."

Both of the scientists are affiliated with the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, one of the country's leading authorities.

Though the tone of the research is not overall negative, it does stress that since the e-cigarette first appeared in 2004, enough time has passed for its health effects to have been studied more indepth. Researchers are giving the strong message, backed by the evidence of a growing body of research, that until the potential damage of e-cigarettes is properly assessed, the public should not adopt a laissez faire attitude without having the proper information. 

Ironically, the hesitation to fully document and study the health effects of cigarettes is also well documented. Therefore, one must ask: in some ways, are we not repeating the same narrative?

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