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E-cigs 'do carry cancer risks' study claims

31 January 2018 09:37

Smoke from e-cigarettes damages DNA

Smoke from e-cigarettes damages DNA

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

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

However, new study findings suggest that they could cause a lot more harm than previously thought.

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.

"Vapers" may be increasing their risk of life-threatening conditions, warns the US team led by Dr Moon-shong Tang, from New York University School of Medicine.

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

When cultured human lung and bladder cells were exposed to nicotine and nicotine derivatives, they were more likely to mutate or undergo tumour-triggering changes than non-exposed cells.

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 NNAL - a lung carcinogen - in their bodies than tobacco smokers.

However, NNAL levels are still significantly higher in e-cigarette smokers than non-smokers, the new study reveals.

Authors of the study pointed out that e-cigarettes are rapidly gaining in popularity, especially among young people who regard them as harmless.

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

Currently there are 18 million e-cigarette smokers in the US and 16% of high school students use the devices, said the researchers.

Most inhaled nicotine is quickly broken down into a non-toxic chemical called cotinine, which is eventually excreted in urine.

But a small proportion is believed to be metabolised into carcinogens, which include NNAL.

These chemicals are capable of inducing tumours in different organs, the scientists pointed out.

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