Study: E-cigarettes Potentially as Harmful as Tobacco

June 13, 2017

A study by chemists at the University of Connecticut offers new evidence that electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are potentially as harmful as tobacco cigarettes.

Using a new low-cost, 3-D printed testing device, UConn researchers found that e-cigarettes loaded with a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage.

The researchers also found that vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes caused as much DNA damage as filtered cigarettes, possibly due to the many chemical additives present in e-cigarette vapors. Cellular mutations caused by DNA damage can lead to cancer.

The findings appear in the journal ACS Sensors.

How much DNA damage e-cigarettes cause depends on the amount of vapor the user inhales, the other additives present, whether nicotine or non-nicotine liquid is used, and other factors, says Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher in UConn’s chemistry department and the study’s lead author.

But one finding was clear.

“From the results of our study, we can conclude that e-cigarettes have as much potential to cause DNA damage as unfiltered regular cigarettes,” Kadimisetty says.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat up liquid and turn it into an aerosol vapor that can be inhaled. Using e-cigarettes is also called ‘vaping.’ The contents of e-cigarettes, called e-liquid or e-juice, are usually made up of propylene glycol, glycerine, nicotine, and flavorings such as menthol, cherry, vanilla, or mint. Non-nicotine e-cigarettes are also available.

Frequently viewed as a less toxic alternative for people looking to break their habit of smoking tobacco cigarettes, modern e-cigarettes have steadily risen in popularity since they first appeared on the commercial market in 2004. How much e-cigarettes contribute to serious health problems and whether they serve as a gateway for future tobacco smokers remains the subject of much debate. Growing concerns about the potential health impact of electronic cigarettes however, prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to tighten its regulation of e-cigarettes in 2016.

UConn’s scientists decided to look into whether the chemicals in e-cigarettes could cause damage to human DNA while testing a new electro-optical screening device they developed in their lab. The small 3-D printed device is believed to be the first of its kind capable of quickly detecting DNA damage, or genotoxicity, in environmental samples in the field, the researchers say.

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