E-cigarettes—used regularly by more than 10% of U.S. teens and more than 3% of adults—were once pitched as a healthy alternative to tobacco cigarettes.
But research increasingly links the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, to many of the same life-threatening diseases that plague smokers.
In a study from Keck School of Medicine of USC, scientists found that vapers and smokers had similar levels of DNA damage—more than twice the amount found in non-users.
They found DNA damage was higher among those who vaped or smoked more frequently. It was also higher in vapers who used vape pods and mods, as well as sweet-, fruit- or mint-flavored vapes.
DNA damage to oral epithelial cells, which line the mouth, is an early change that is associated with an increased risk for many types of chronic disease, including cancer and inflammatory diseases.
In the study, the team analyzed epithelial cells taken from the mouths of vapers, smokers, and people who had never vaped or smoked.
They recruited 72 healthy adults and split them into three groups, matched for age, race and gender: current vapers (who had never smoked), current smokers (who had never vaped) and people with no history of smoking or vaping.
The team also collected data on how often, and for how long, participants had smoked or vaped, and in the case of vaping, what devices and flavors they used.
Then, they collected a sample of epithelial cells from each participant’s mouth and tested for damage to specific genes known to indicate assault to the genome.
The tests showed similar levels of DNA damage between vapers and smokers: 2.6 times and 2.2 times that of non-users, respectively.
In terms of devices, vapers who used pods had the highest levels of DNA damage, followed by those who used mods.
In terms of flavors, sweet-flavored vapes were linked to the highest levels of DNA damage, followed by mint/menthol- and fruit-flavored vapes.
The research is the first to clearly distinguish between the DNA damage that occurs in exclusive vapers versus smokers and to provide details about the risks vapers face based on how often they vape and what devices and flavors they use.
The team says vapers are difficult to study because they typically have a history of cigarette smoking or are dual users, who both vape and smoke tobacco cigarettes.
If you care about smoking, please read studies about how to manage chronic lung disease, and olive oil could help lower risks of heart disease and stroke.
For more information about health, please see recent studies about why smokers have a lower risk of COVID-19, and results showing scientists find the cause of lung cancer in never smokers.
The study was conducted by Ahmad Besaratinia et al and published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
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