Vaping Causes Similar DNA Changes to Smoking

Vaping has become a pathway to nicotine for many younger people. Many teens don’t even realize that the vapes they are using contain nicotine. But, their urine samples show high levels of nicotine. Experts worry that these young people will eventually move on to traditional cigarettes.

But for older adults, vaping is often seen as a way to quit smoking. Smoking tobacco exposes you to more than 7,000 chemicals. It’s unknown what is in most vape liquids. However, “there’s almost no doubt that vaping exposes you to fewer toxic chemicals than smoking traditional cigarettes,” according to Dr.  Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at Johns Hopkins.

While it’s true that it’s safer, it’s not safe. Nicotine is bad for your heart. Inhaling any unknown vapor is bad; it can impact asthma and chronic lung conditions. Vapes are just as addictive as normal cigarettes. While you are no longer addicted to tobacco, you are still addicted to nicotine.

A new study has found that vaping and smoking cause similar DNA changes. The changes, called epigenetic changes, were seen in cells exposed to smoke and vapor in the mouth. The changes were also found in the blood and other parts of the body. While that doesn’t mean that vaping is as dangerous as smoking, it shows vaping has more dangers than previously known.  

The study’s author, Chiara Herzog, of University College London (UCL), explained that the changes vaping causes are similar to the ones smokers have that are linked to the development of lung cancer. The changes were seen in people who vaped even if they hadn’t smoked before. It underscores the fact that vaping might be safer than smoking, but it isn’t healthy.

Senior author Prof. Martin Widschwendter of UCL said, “The epigenome allows us, on one side, to look back. It tells us about how our body responded to a previous environmental exposure like smoking. Likewise, exploring the epigenome may also enable us to predict future health and disease. Changes that are observed in lung cancer tissue can also be measured in cheek cells from smokers who have not (yet) developed a cancer. Importantly, our research points to the fact that e-cigarette users exhibit the same changes, and these devices might not be as harmless as originally thought. Long-term studies of e-cigarettes are needed.”

People critical of the study point out that participants were self-reporting their tobacco use. People may have underreported their past use of tobacco and, therefore, had the damage before vaping. It’s also essential to note that the epigenetic changes indicate that someone might develop cancer; it doesn’t mean they will. This study does not prove that vaping causes cancer.  

Ian Walker, the executive director of policy at Cancer Research UK, said the study shows why people should not start vaping if they don’t smoke. “Decades of research has proven the link between smoking and cancer, and studies have so far shown that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and can help people quit. This paper does however highlight that e-cigarettes are not risk-free, and so we need additional studies to uncover their potential longer-term impacts on human health.”  

Other tools, including gums and patches, can help people quit smoking. Finding the right one for you can take some time. If you speak to your doctor about your habits, they may be able to help you choose a method that would work best for your lifestyle. E-cigarettes may be a great tool for some people. However, they may carry their own risks.

Banner image: Ganesh Harikant via Pexels

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