Vaping damages people’s DNA – just like conventional cigarettes, new research warns.
Chemical alterations – called epigenetic changes – can cause genes to malfunction.
They are found in almost all types of cancer as well as other serious illnesses. A similar pattern has been identified between e-cig users and conventional smokers.
Lead author Professor Ahmad Besaratinia, University of Southern California, said: “Our study, for the first time, examines the biological effects of vaping in adult e-cigarette users, while taking into account their past exposure to smoking.
“Our data indicate that vaping, like smoking, is associated with deregulation of mitochondrial genes and disruption of molecular pathways involved in immunity and the inflammatory response, which govern health versus disease state. “
Miitchondria are the powerhouses of cells – they extract and store energy from digested food.
Prof Besaratinia explained: “When mitochondria become dysfunctional, they release key molecules.
“The molecules released can function as signals to the immune system, triggering an immune response that leads to inflammation.
“It plays a vital role in the development of various diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, metabolic diseases and cancer.”
Since entering the market over ten years ago, electronic cigarettes have become particularly popular among young people.
They come in a variety of flavors and have been marketed as a safe alternative to tobacco products. Studies have since suggested otherwise.
But most vapers are either “dual users” who vape and smoke – or have a history of using traditional cigarettes.
Now, an American team has shown that the devices are linked to unwanted biological effects – regardless of smoking history.
They divided 82 healthy adults into current vapers with and without a history of smoking, cigarette smokers, and a control group who had neither.
The information was verified by levels of cotinine, a breakdown product of nicotine, in blood samples.
Extensive DNA mapping and computer models revealed an increase in deregulated genes in vapers’ blood cells.
Professor Besaratinia said: “We have found over 80% gene imbalance in vapers to correlate with the intensity and duration of current vaping.
“While none of the gene imbalances detected in vapers correlated with the intensity or duration of their previous smoking.”
The effects described in the journal Scientific Reports mirror those of smoking, which causes even greater damage.
Researchers have already shown that e-cig users develop some of the same cancer-related molecular changes in oral tissue as smokers.
They also found that vapers had the same type of cancer-related chemical changes in their genome.
The latest study shows that mitochondrial genes are preferential targets for gene deregulation – both in vapers and smokers.
They also found that vapers and smokers had significant imbalance in immune response genes.
The “new and significant” results are linked. A growing body of evidence shows that mitochondria play a vital role in immunity and inflammation.
Around 3.6 million Britons are estimated to vape. More than a third of 15-year-olds in the UK have used e-cigarettes.
Professor Besaratinia said: “Given the popularity of e-cigarettes among never-smokers, our findings will be important to regulators.
“To protect public health, these agencies urgently need scientific evidence to inform the regulation of the manufacture, distribution and marketing of electronic cigarettes.”
He then plans to identify and investigate harmful chemicals common to e-cig vapor and cigarette smoke.
Public Health England has repeatedly endorsed e-cigs. But other experts are concerned about security concerns and their use by young people.
Vaping has been linked to 200 health problems, including heart disease and pneumonia.
In August, another U.S. team found that one-time vaping can damage cells, increasing the risk of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.