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New health concern raised over vaping

DNA damage to oral epithelial cells has been observed among electronic cigarette (vaping) users, who have never smoked.

E-cigarette user blowing a cloud of aerosol (vapor). The activity is known as cloud-chasing. Image: micadew from US - Smoke Screen, CC 3.0
E-cigarette user blowing a cloud of aerosol (vapor). The activity is known as cloud-chasing. Image: micadew from US - Smoke Screen, CC 3.0

How safe is vaping and what is the relative safety between vaping and conventional cigarette smoking? There are a number of differences open to research. One area of recent concern is with DNA damage within oral cells, which appears to be similar among vapers (who have never previously smoked) and current smokers.

A new study shows how DNA damage to oral epithelial cells among electronic cigarette (vaping) users, who have never smoked, is broadly similar to that induced from current smoking.

In addition, the degree of damage increases in a dose-dependent manner (that is, effects change when the dose is changed and the effects increase with the regularity of vaping), as Hospital Pharmacy Europe.

The research comes from the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, University of Southern California, USA.

In 2021 the Cochrane systematic review on the use of electronic cigarettes concluded that there did not appear to be any clear evidence of harm from nicotine electronic cigarettes. It was recommended that a follow-up study be conducted.

Over this period, reports indicate an increase in both hospitalisations and death due to ‘vaping use-associated lung injury’, an effect that is the result to cytotoxicity and neutrophilic inflammation caused by inhaled chemicals.

Since the harm associated with conventional smoking is linked to DNA damage due to reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, the researchers considered that an assessment of the extent to which such DNA damage occurs could be used to determine the relative damage caused through vaping and smoking.

Here the researchers assessed volunteer subjects and quantified the DNA damage within oral epithelial cells using a polymerase chain reaction assay. The three groups studied were: exclusive vapers (who had never smoked); exclusive current smokers and non-smokers. In all, 72 individuals (ages from 24.3 to 26 years were included,), with 24 people in each of the three groups.

Mean levels of DNA damage in oral epithelial cells were found to be 2.6- and 2.2-fold higher among vapers and smokers compared to non-smokers respectively. Furthermore, the level of damage was found not to be significantly different between vapers and smokers.

It was noted that the DNA damage was highest among those using used sweet-, mint or menthol-, and fruit-flavoured e-liquids, although nicotine levels were not a determining factor.

The researchers state the case that their findings have a significant implication for public health, especially given how electronic cigarette flavoured liquids exhibit the highest damage and these are the most popular type among younger vapers.

The study appears in the journal Nicotine Study Research, titled “Vaping Dose, Device Type, and E-Liquid Flavor are Determinants of DNA Damage in Electronic Cigarette Users.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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