Adding to the evidence that electronic cigarettes are anything but risk-free, a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota has discovered that tobacco vapor devices introduce three chemicals into the mouth that are known to damage DNA.
Their data, presented on August 20 at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, was drawn from analyses of saliva and oral tissue cells from 10 e-cigarette users and 10 non-users.
"It's clear that more carcinogens arise from the combustion of tobacco in regular cigarettes than from the vapor of e-cigarettes," lead investigator Silvia Balbo said in a statement. "However, we don't really know the impact of inhaling the combination of compounds produced by this device. Just because the threats are different doesn't mean that e-cigarettes are completely safe."
All e-cigarettes, also known as vape pens or vapes, rely on the same basic design: when a user presses a button or breathes through the tip, a small amount of the nicotine- (or other drug-) laden fluid in a refillable canister or replaceable cartridge is drawn into an internal chamber and atomized by a battery-powered heating coil. Air pulled into the chamber mixes with the condensed molecules, and the resulting aerosol is drawn into the user’s lungs.
Although this process avoids many of the toxic byproducts of smoking, vape fluids contain a myriad of solvents, preservatives, and flavoring agents that have dubious safety profiles when altered by high heat and consumed in this manner. A number of studies have shown that e-cigarette vapor carries dozens of irritants and possible or confirmed carcinogens.
However, most of the past research aimed at identifying DNA-altering molecules in e-cigarette vapor has used gas chromatography, and scientists hoping to assess how these substances build up in living tissue have looked at mice who were exposed to levels proportionate to a human smoker.