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Research cast doubts on 'safe' image of vaping and connects e-cigarettes to health problems

Smoke from e-cigarettes damages DNA and can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease, scientists have warned.

Smoke from e-cigarettes damages DNA and can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease, scientists have warned.

  • Mice exposed to e-cigarette smoke had high levels of DNA damage in the heart, lungs and bladder
  • Young people regard vaping as relatively 'harmless'
Vaping
Vaping may not be as safe as was initially assumed. Picture: iStock

The battery-driven devices, which deliver an instant nicotine 'hit' without burning tobacco, have been widely promoted as a safer alternative to cigarettes.

But findings from a new study suggest they are far from harmless, and could pose a serious health risk.

In laboratory tests, mice exposed to e-cigarette smoke had higher levels of DNA damage in the heart, lungs and bladder than those breathing normal filtered air.

DNA repair systems, which protect against cancer, were also impaired in the animals' cells.

Increased risk of life-threatening conditions

The US team was led by New York University School of Medicine professor of environmental medicine Moon-shong Tang. They warn that 'vapers' may be increasing their risk of life-threatening conditions.

Reporting their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers write: 'We propose that e-cigarette smoke is carcinogenic and that e-cigarette smokers have a higher risk than non-smokers to develop lung and bladder cancer and heart diseases.'

Similar results were seen when cultured human lung and bladder cells were exposed to nicotine and nicotine derivatives.

The cells were more likely to mutate or undergo tumour-triggering changes than non-exposed cells.

Regarded as 'harmless'

While tobacco smoke contains a host of potentially dangerous chemicals, e-cigarette vapour consists only of nicotine and some relatively harmless organic solvents.

Recent studies have shown that e-cigarette smokers have 97% less of a lung carcinogen known as NNAL in their bodies than tobacco smokers. That is similar to the level seen in people on nicotine-replacement therapy.

However, NNAL levels are still significantly higher in e-cigarette smokers than non-smokers, the authors of the study point out.

They pointed out that e-cigarettes were rapidly gaining popularity, especially among young people who regard them as harmless.

'It is important to note that many of these e-cigarette smokers who have taken up the habit are not necessarily doing it for the purpose of quitting tobacco smoking, rather, it is because they are assuming that e-cigarette smoking is safe,' the scientists write.

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