Electronic cigarettes have exploded in popularity over the last few years as a more discrete, healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. But new research presented this week at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting suggests that e-cigs (or vapes as they’re often referred) may carry significant health risks of their own.
In the research study, reported by the journal Nature, a team of doctors collected and isolated a number of bronchial cells from smokers at risk of lung cancer. Doctors exposed one set of cells to e-cig vapor and the other to traditional cigarette smoke. The cells exposed to the vapor showed a similar pattern of gene expression as the cells exposed to the smoke.
The changes to the cells do not necessarily indicate a higher cancer risk on their own, but the data does have researchers concerned. “[E-cigarettes] may be safer [than tobacco], but our preliminary studies suggest that they may not be benign,” says Dr. Avrum Spira, a study researcher based out of the Boston University School of Medicine.
While it’s believed that nicotine vapor itself is a low cancer risk, the American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that it's still a highly addictive drug. Further, electronic cigarette vapor often contains cancer-causing impurities such as diethylene glycol. The ACS does not recommend using e-cigarettes as part of your plan to quit smoking.
“Long-term health effects [of e-cigarettes] are still unclear,” says the ACS. “This is an active area of research, but the safety of these products is still unknown.”
[Woman smoking e-cig via Shutterstock]