According to a new study by the Keck School of Medicine of USC, users of electronic cigarettes develop the same cancer-related molecular changes as traditional cigarette smokers.
Is the electronic cigarette as harmful to health as tobacco? While it is still impossible to say with certainty, a study published in Epigenetics magazine shows that significant biological changes in the DNA of smokers are also observed in people who vape. Results from a recent British study confirm that the electronic cigarette is not without health risks and that its use urgently needs to be regulated.
Electronic cigarettes smokers show chemical changes similar to conventional smokers in their general genome and parts of their DNA. These specific chemical changes, known as epigenetic changes, can lead to genetic dysfunctions and are often found in almost all types of human cancers and other serious diseases.
“That doesn’t mean these people will get cancer,” said Ahmad Besaratinia, the lead author of the study. What we’re seeing is that the same changes that are detectable in tumors in cancer patients in people who vape or smoke. This is probably due to exposure to carcinogenic chemicals in cigarette smoke and, at much lower levels, in the steam of electronic cigarettes.
Potential public health and policy implications
To carry out their study, the researchers compared three groups of people: vapers, regular smokers and a control group of people who had never smoked or vaped before. Blood samples were taken to compare changes in the levels of the two specific chemical tags attached to DNA that are known to affect gene activity and function. Of the 45 participants in the study, both vapers and smokers showed a significant reduction in the levels of the two chemical tags compared to the control group. This is the first study to show that vapers and smokers both had significant biological changes in their blood cells.
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“Our new study shows that epigenetic mechanisms, particularly changes in chemical tags attached to DNA, can contribute to abnormal gene expression in both vapers and regular smokers,” says Ahmad Besaratinia. Given the established role that many genes play in human diseases, such as cancer, “this research must provide invaluable information that can have immediate public health and policy implications,” adds the researcher.
He and his team intend to continue their research. “The next step is to examine the entire genome and identify all the genes that are the target of these two chemical changes in electronic cigarettes smokers and traditional smokers,” he concludes.
Most importantly “The epidemic of teen vaping and the recent outbreak of vaping-related severe lung injury and deaths in the U.S. underscore the importance of generating scientific evidence on which future regulations for electronic cigarette manufacturing, marketing, and distribution can be based.” said Besaratinia.