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New Study Claims E-Cigarettes May Be Just as Bad for You as Unfiltered Tobacco Cigarettes

Scientists at the University of Connecticut (UConn) recently published research that suggests electronic cigarettes may be just as dangerous as unfiltered tobacco cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage.

UConn-studyForget all those studies that found e-cigarettes to be up to 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes, it turns out that when it comes to damaging your DNA, which can cause cancer, they are just as bad as analogs. At least that’s what UConn researchers found after using a new low-cost, 3-D printed testing device to compare the effects of both e-cigs and cigarettes on human DNA. According to a press release published on the university’s website,  “the researchers found that e-cigarettes loaded with a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage,” and that “vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes caused as much DNA damage as filtered cigarettes, possibly due to the many chemical additives present in e-cigarette vapors.”

Lead author Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher in UConn’s chemistry department, and his team, were testing a new electro-optical screening device they had developed in their lab, and decided to do it while looking into whether e-cigarette vapor causes DNA damage, like cigarette smoke does. Their 3D-printed device, believed to be the first of its kind to quickly detect DNA damage, or genotoxicity, in environmental samples, uses micro-pumps to push liquid samples across multiple ‘microwells’ embedded in a small carbon chip.

“The wells are pre-loaded with reactive human metabolic enzymes and DNA. As the samples drop into the wells, new metabolites that have the potential to cause DNA damage are formed,” the study press release explains. “Reactions between the metabolites and the DNA generate light that is captured by a camera. Within five minutes, users can see how much relative DNA damage a sample produces by the intensity of the light detected in each well. The device is unique in that it converts chemicals into their metabolites during testing, which replicates what happens in the human body.”

For this study, scientists extracted vapor samples from e-cigarettes and smoke from tobacco cigarettes using an artificial inhalation technique. Tobacco cigarettes were connected to a tube that contained a cotton plug. A syringe connected on the other end of the tube simulated inhalation, and samples were collected from the piece of cotton. The same was done with e-cigarettes, with 20 puffs of an e-cig being considered the equivalent of smoking a tobacco cigarette. Kadimisetty and his team gathered samples at 20, 60, and 100 puffs.

Study authors wrote that there are potentially hundreds of chemicals in e-cigarette vapor that contribute to DNA damage, but rather than test for all of them, they just targeted three known carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes, and loaded their new testing device with specific enzymes that would convert those chemicals into metabolites. If the targeted chemicals were detected in the samples, the 3D-printed device would give them a read of genotoxicity, and if they weren’t, there would be no reaction.

The press release doesn’t mention if all the targeted carcinogens were detected, but the conclusion of the study speaks for itself – electronic cigarettes cause just as much DNA damage as unfilteredUConn-study2 tobacco cigarettes, whether they contain nicotine or not.

“I never expected the DNA damage from e-cigarettes to be equal to tobacco cigarettes,” Karteek Kadimisetty said. “I was shocked the first time I saw the result, so I ran the controls again. I even diluted the samples. But the trend was still there – something in the e-cigarettes was definitely causing damage to the DNA.”

So there you have it, if you thought e-cigarettes could save you from cancer, you thought wrong. This study suggests that as far as DNA damage goes, they are just as bad. Sorry!

Just one problem with that conclusion, though. We still don’t know anything relevant about the methodology used in this research. I mean, I’m glad to hear that they used this cool, cheap 3D-printed device that they’ll probably license out to other laboratories, but what I would really like to know is the juicy (pun intended) bits – like what kind of e-liquid they used, the PG/VG ratio, what wattage and atomizer resistance were used for testing, whether juice was constantly added to the cotton wick between puffs to prevent dry burning, and, last but not least, how significant was the DNA damage?

For all we know, this test, like others before it, was done in dry burning condition, where the cotton got so dry that it virtually burned, obviously releasing many chemicals associated with combustion. After all, with all due respect to the scientists at UConn, I find it very hard to believe that a vaporized e-liquid that mainly consists of PG/VG, nicotine and food flavorings can be so bad for DNA as smoke that has been proven to contain thousands of carcinogens and other toxins. It just doesn’t make sense and this study contradicts most of the research on the safety of e-cigarettes, compared to smoking tobacco.

UConn-study3If you think there’s any way that e-cigarettes are just as dangerous as smoking, there’s nothing I can do about it but urge you to REALLY think about it, and check out some other studies that clearly show that they contain very few, if any of the toxins found in tobacco smoke. To suggest that these could cause the same amount of DNA damage as cigarettes is just a little to hard to believe, in my opinion.

I eagerly await the response of scientists like Michael Siegel or Konstantinos Farsalinos. They’ve shed light on other controverisal vaping studies in the past, and I\m sure they can do the same here. At the very least, they can report the unknown details of the study mentioned above.

On a side note, the title chosen by the University of Connecticut to promote this study  – E-Cigarettes – Potentially as Harmful as Tobacco Cigarettes – is beneath the reputation of the institution. It’s basically clickbait for news outlets, and, unfortunately, it worked just as planned. This story has been picked up by virtually all major news sites, all of which are using the same ominous title. Never mind the danger of pushing people back to smoking, as long as we get a click, we’re happy…

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