MANSFIELD, Conn. — Put the vape down. Scientists say that e-cigarettes cause the same amount of genetic damage that normal, tobacco cigarettes cause.
This genetic damage is what leads to the various cancers associated with smoking, say researchers from the University of Connecticut, who developed a low-cost, 3D-printed testing device to detect damage to DNA.
Electronic cigarettes heat up oil from their cartridges and turn that oil into vapor. There is a wide variety of types and flavors of their cartridges, which are available with and without nicotine. Many people overuse e-cigarettes, thinking of them as a less-unhealthy version of normal cigarettes.
Using their unique device, the researchers found that the vapor in non-nicotine e-cigarettes could potentially cause as much DNA damage as filtered tobacco cigarettes. They theorized that the many chemical additives in e-cigarette cartridges were among the primary reasons for the negative effects.
Similarly, the team determined that using e-cigarettes with nicotine-based liquids could be just as detrimental, turning the question mark that has long accompanied the conversation about e-cigarettes into a firm period.
“From the results of our study, we can conclude that e-cigarettes have as much potential to cause DNA damage as unfiltered regular cigarettes,” says Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher in the university’s chemistry department and the study’s lead author, in a release.
The 3D-printed, DNA-testing device the research team created is believed to be the first of its kind to be able to detect genotoxicity, or DNA damage. Kadimisetty touts it as something that takes just a few minutes to make and costs only about a dollar.
For the study, the researchers pulled vapor samples from e-cigarettes as well as smoke from regular cigarettes using a tube and syringe that acted as an artificial inhaler. When the inhalation process began, samples from the artificial inhalation were absorbed by a cotton plug connected to the tube.
The team took samples at 20, 60, and 100 puffs from the designated cigarettes, making a setting that 20 puffs was equivalent to smoking one cigarettes. They noted that the potential effects increased with the number of puffs.
“Some people use e-cigarettes heavily because they think there is no harm. We wanted to see exactly what might be happening to DNA, and we had the resources in our lab to do that,” says Kadimisetty, who admits he was stunned to see the results.
“I never expected the DNA damage from e-cigarettes to be equal to tobacco cigarettes,” he adds. “I was shocked the first time I saw the result, so I ran the controls again. I even diluted the samples. But the trend was still there – something in the e-cigarettes was definitely causing damage to the DNA.”
The authors believe their innovative device could also be used in the future for drug development or testing for early forms of cancer.
The study’s findings were published in the journal ACS Sensors.