A new study from the University of Connecticut has found the vapor from electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes – which are often seen and marketed as a safer alternative – can cause as much DNA damage as smoke from tobacco cigarettes. The results surprised the researchers, who concluded that e-cigarettes are "potentially as harmful as tobacco cigarettes."
While a flurry of ongoing research is attempting to determine the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, the "vaping" trend is getting more and more popular – currently, nearly three million adults in Great Britain alone use e-cigarettes. Despite most research still being in the early stages, the majority of studies have suggested that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco smoking.
In 2016, the Royal College of Physicians concluded that the long-term health hazards of e-cigarettes are "unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco." But despite e-cigarettes seeming to be a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, we do still see studies warning of the dangers from inhaling e-cig vapors. A study in 2015 found e-cig vapor to contain the same damaging free radicals found in tobacco smoke, albeit in much lower quantities, and a recent study found e-cigarettes could pose a risk to cardiovascular health, though again, probably much less than tobacco smoking.
While the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown, most research to this day has found the health impacts to be, in varying degrees, lower than tobacco smoking. This new study from a team of chemists stands in stark opposition to most prior reports in that it claims e-cigarette vapor causes the same amount of damage as tobacco smoke, in this case in relation to DNA damage.
This study used a new electro-optical screening device that can quickly detect DNA damage and showed that such damage from nicotine e-cigarettes was approximately equivalent to damage caused by smoking unfiltered cigarettes.
The research didn't identify which specific chemicals in the e-cigarette vapor were causing the DNA damage, but the results were clear, damage on a genetic level was being done.
Interestingly, a contrasting study was released late in 2016 claiming e-cigarette vapor had no mutagenic effect on DNA. This earlier study, published in the journal Mutation Research, utilized a very different experiment model. It is also worth noting that this earlier study was funded by British American Tobacco.
While many cigarette smokers have switched to e-cigarettes believing them to be a safer alternative, more research needs to be done before we have a conclusive answer. Of course, the safest approach would be to partake in neither – that's one thing for certain.
The new study was published in the journal ACS Sensors.
Source: University of Connecticut/New Atlas