Vaping May Be “No Better” Than Smoking Cigarettes

By May Wilkerson 01/05/16

E-cigarette vapor can do lasting and irreparable damage to cells. But more research is needed.

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Uh-oh, more bad news for fans of “vaping.” E-cigarettes have skyrocketed in popularity as a “healthier” alternative to tobacco cigarettes, but the nicotine vaporizers may be "no better than smoking regular cigarettes" and may be linked to cancer, a new study has found.

In the study, researchers exposed human cells to both nicotine-based and nicotine-free e-cigarette vapor, and found that both kinds of vapor can do lasting and irreparable damage to cells. "Vapourised e-cig liquids induce increased DNA strand breaks and cell death," said a report of the findings published in the Oral Oncology journal.

E-cigs have been marketed as a way to quit smoking and/or a healthier alternative. But these findings “strongly suggest” that the devices are “not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public,” said the report.

Past research has shown that nicotine can lead to cell damage, explained co-author, Dr. Jessica Wang-Rodriguez, chief of pathology at the San Diego branch of the US Department of Veteran Affairs. However, the recent study suggests that other e-cig components may be carcinogenic as well.

"For now, we were able to at least identify that e-cigarettes on the whole have something to do with increased cell death," said Dr. Wang-Rodriguez. However, she stressed actual vaping may not have the same effect on the body, since the amount of vapor tested in the study would be equivalent to "someone smoking for hours on end." Also, further research is needed to determine the long-term effects of vaping, and whether this DNA damage could ultimately lead to cancer.

The study comes on the heels of another alarming study from Harvard University on 51 e-cig liquids, which found that some of the chemical components can cause a rare and potentially life-threatening condition called popcorn lung, which narrows the airways in the lungs. Yikes!

But before you shut the door on e-cigs forever, some experts have argued that the devices are still a much better alternative to tobacco. "Our recent world-leading review found that e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoking—the harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke, including carcinogens, are either absent in e-cigarette vapour or are at significantly lower levels than tobacco smoke," said Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and well-being at Public Health England (PHE). "Last year, two out of three smokers who combined e-cigarettes with expert support from a local service quit successfully."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.