Keck School of Medicine researchers discover that the levels of epithelial cell DNA damage in people who vape are virtually the same as people who smoke traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes, or vapes, were once touted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, research is slowly revealing that vaping may not be as harmless as once thought.
While recent studies suggest links between e-cigarette use and cavities, altered immune cell function in the lungs, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, scientists are still unclear about the true impact vapes have on health.
However, new research from the Keck School of Medicine of USC may have found the 'smoking gun' linking vape use to the same damage caused by cigarettes.
For the study, published February 14 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, scientists divided 72 healthy adults into three groups — current smokers, current vapers, and people who have never smoked or vaped.
The team also collected information from the smoking and vaping groups about how long and how often they vaped or smoked. The participants in the vaping group were also asked what types of devices and which flavors they used.
The research team then collected epithelial cell samples from the inside of each participant’s mouth.
After testing the samples, the team found that participants who used vapes had 2.6 times more DNA damage than those who never used vapes or regular cigarettes. Moreover, participants who smoked traditional cigarettes had 2.2 times more DNA damage than non-vapers and non-smokers.
These results show that the levels of DNA damage were similar in vapers and smokers, indicating that vape use may have the same harmful effects on health as smoking.
Furthermore, the scientists also found that among the participants who smoked or vaped, DNA damage levels were higher in heavy users — meaning the damage may be dose-dependent.
In addition, vaping participants who used pods showed the highest level of DNA damage, followed by those who used mods. Moreover, sweet-flavored vapes were associated with the highest levels of damage, with mint/menthol and fruit-flavored vapes following close behind.
However, nicotine levels in the vapes did not predict DNA damage.
With more than 2.5 million middle and high school students currently using vaping products, and almost 85% of them using flavored e-cigarettes, the study authors say their breakthrough findings could have significant implications for public health and tobacco products regulation.
Moving forward, the research team plans more investigations using a larger number of participants and studies looking into the biological impact of DNA damage and its relation to chronic disease.