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Vaping Could Increase Risk Of Cancer, But It's Still Hazy


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

The long and short of it is that vaping might increase the risk of cancer, although it’s safer than smoking tobacco. hurricanehank/Shutterstock

A new piece of research weighs in on the hot topic of vaping and its effect on health, specifically looking at the effect of e-cigarette vapor and DNA mutations that may eventually lead to cancer.

The long and short of it is that vaping with nicotine might increase the risk of cancer, although it’s safer than smoking tobacco.


As explained in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the New York University School of Medicine exposed laboratory mice to the different components of e-cigarette vapor, both nicotine and harmless organic solvents.

The results showed that vapor damages DNA and reduces DNA repair activity in the lung, heart, and bladder of mice. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, it’s the nicotine that causes the damage, while solvents themselves do not appear to cause DNA damage at all. It’s also important to remember that when you smoke a conventional cigarette, you are inhaling this nicotine along with a lethal cocktail of carbon monoxide and at least 70 known cancer-causing chemicals.

For another part of the experiment, the scientists exposed cultured human cells to large quantities of nicotine in a lab and found similar effects on DNA damage and repair. However, the researchers also cited another study that found 97 percent less of a key biomarker related to genetic damage in the urine of vaper smokers compared with smokers. Basically, this means that nicotine increases cancer risk in theory, but in practice it's not quite as clear or simple as that.

Some experts not involved in the study aren’t so enthusiastic about the findings. Professor Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, believes that these results add nothing new to the debate on e-cigs and health.  


“Human cells were submerged in nicotine and in off-the-shelf bought carcinogenic nitrosamines,” Professor Hajek said in a statement to the Science Media Centre. "It is not surprising of course that this damaged the cells, but this has no relationship to any effects of e-cigarettes on people who use them."

“In the other part of this study, animals were exposed to what for them are extremely large doses of nicotine and this also generated some damage, but this too has unclear relevance for effects of vaping."

Nevertheless, while the findings don’t necessarily say anything we don’t know, it’s promising to see that the research is coming together and seeming to suggest that vaping is not without health risks. So far, however, it appears to be notably less damaging than cigarettes. A comprehensive report from the US, published last week, also found that vaping was notably less harmful than cigarettes and maintained there's "substantial evidence" it could be a useful tool to quit smoking.

Dr Ed Stephens, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, summarized the results by noting that this new research is "consistent with the widely-held view that vaping is not without risk of cancer and other diseases, but that risk is usually considerably lower than smoking."


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