E-cigarettes – regularly used in the United States by more than 10% of teenagers and more than 3% of adults (in Brazil, their use is banned by Anvisa) – were initially presented as a healthy alternative to tobacco cigarettes. But research is increasingly linking e-cigarette use, or steamingto many of the same deadly diseases that afflict conventional smokers.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USA) analyzed epithelial cells taken from his mouth vaporizers (e-cigarette users), smokers and people who have never smoked or vaped. They found that vapers and smokers had similar levels of DNA damage – more than double the amount found in non-users. DNA damage was greater among those who vaped or smoked more often. It was also higher in vapers who used pods and mods, as well as devices with caramel, fruit or mint flavors.
“For the first time, we showed that the more vapers used e-cigarettes and the longer they used them, the more DNA damage appeared in their oral cells,” said Dr. Ahmad Besaratinia, professor of population research and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and senior author of the study. “The same pattern applies to smokers.”
Damage to the DNA of oral epithelial cells, which line the mouth, is an early change associated with an increased risk of many types of chronic diseases, including cancer and inflammatory diseases.
The search, published in the magazine Nicotine & Tobacco Research, is the first to clearly distinguish between DNA damage occurring in exclusive vapers versus smokers, and provides details on the risks vapers face based on how often they vape and the devices and flavors they use. Vapers are difficult to study because they usually have a history of smoking or are dual users, vaping and smoking cigarettes.
“We designed our study to find out the effects of vaping on e-cigarette users who were neither smokers nor dual users at any point in their lives,” Bessaratinia said.
The new study builds on previous research by Besaratinia and her team, which showed that vaping is linked to changes in gene expression, epigenetic changes and other biological changes involved in the development of the disease.
“The devices and flavors that are most popular and heavily consumed by young vapers as well as adults are the ones associated with the most DNA damage,” Bessaratinia said. “Clearly, these results have important implications, both for public health and for regulatory agencies.”
More use, more damage
Researchers recruited 72 healthy adults and divided them into three groups, matched for age, race, and gender: current vapers (who never smoked), current smokers (who never smoked), and people with no history of smoking or use electronic cigarettes. . They verified each participant’s background using detailed questionnaires, interviews and biochemical tests to ensure that any observed effects could be directly linked to vaping or smoking.
Besaratinia and her team also collected data on how often and for how long the participants smoked or vaped and, if vaping, which devices and flavors they used. They then took a sample of epithelial cells from each participant’s mouth and tested for damage to specific genes known to indicate aggressiveness in the genome.
The tests showed similar levels of DNA damage between vapers and smokers: 2.6 times and 2.2 times more than non-users, respectively. In terms of devices, vapers who used pods had the highest levels of DNA damage, followed by those who used mods. In terms of flavors, sweet-flavored vapes were linked to the highest levels of DNA damage, followed by mint/menthol and fruit-flavored vapes.
Popular but harmful
The findings are highly relevant to public health agencies and regulators seeking to keep dangerous products away from vulnerable groups, including children and adolescents, Bessaratinia said. The most popular products, including flavored vapes – used by an estimated 85% of teenage vapers – also appear to be the most harmful, in terms of producing DNA damage.
The team’s next task is to replicate the findings in a larger group of participants. They also plan to study other biological effects resulting from DNA damage that are even more closely related to the onset of chronic disease.
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