A Breath of Not-So-Fresh Air: are e-cigarettes worse for us than we first thought?

Whilst smoking has long been a contentious issue in both science and society it is no secret that it is undoubtedly bad for you.  Despite this, many continue to smoke thanks to the addictive properties possessed nicotine, a primary component of cigarettes.

Then in 2003 E-cigarettes were invented by a Chinese pharmacist. These electronic aids revolutionised the way we as a society smoke, and they quickly became popular especially with younger people.

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E-cigarettes work by delivering nicotine to the body as an aerosol, without the aid of tobacco or the burning process. Ordinarily when the burning process happens, it causes the incomplete burning of more than 7000 carcinogenic* compounds found in the cigarette. Since E-cigarettes don’t contain these compounds it was no wonder that they rapidly gained support and were promoted as safe.

However, a team of researchers at the New York university School of Medicine have discovered some disturbing consequences of the nicotine in e-cigarettes in a study they conducted on mice. Once inside the body, nicotine was found to undergo a transformation into substances which can damage DNA and lead to cancerous mutations.

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Furthermore, the nicotine was found not only to induce cancer, but also to reduce repair activity within the vital organs of the mouse including the lung, heart and bladder. As the study was conducted on mice, which are obviously not humans, it’s easy to dissociate ourselves from this study, however, the scientists also concluded that the same damage was caused to a group of cells taken from a human lung and bladder.

It can take decades for carcinogenics to induce cancer in humans and, as e-cigarettes are a relatively new phenomenon, it could be years before there are applicable results from a human study. Despite this, the results presented by these scientists show some evidence of e-cigarette smoke being dangerous for human health and increasing the risk of developing different cancers and heart disease.

Glossary
Carcinogen – A substance capable of causing cancer

Reference
Lee, H., Park, S., Weng, M., Wang, H., Huang, W., Lepor, H., Wu, X., Chen, L. and Tang, M. (2018). E-cigarette smoke damages DNA and reduces repair activity in mouse lung, heart, and bladder as well as in human lung and bladder cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(7), pp.E1560-E1569.

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