LOS ANGELES — E-cigarettes were once marketed as a “healthier” alternative to smoking tobacco products, but research showing that both can lead to the same diseases continues to surface. Now, a group of researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC are saying for the first time that vapers and smokers have similar levels of DNA damage.
“For the first time, we showed that the more vapers used e-cigarettes, and the longer they used them, the more DNA damage occurred in their oral cells,” says senior author Ahmad Besarantinia, PhD, MPH, professor of research population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine, in a university release. “The same pattern held up in smokers.”
The study builds on previous research conducted by Besaratinia and his team, which showed that vaping has a link to genetic alterations as well as other biological changes that lead to disease.
To delve deeper into this, the team recruited 72 healthy adults and split them into three groups — matching them by age, race, and gender. Researchers split them into current vapers (who never smoked), current smokers (who never vaped), and people who never tried either habit. They used detailed questionnaires and interviews to verify each participant’s history as well as biochemical tests to ensure that any findings could be attributable to either vaping or smoking.
“We designed our study to tease out the effects of vaping in e-cigarette users who were neither cigarette smokers nor dual users at any point in their lives,” Besaratinia explains.
The team also collected data on how frequently, and for how long, participants smoked or vaped. Among vapers, they recorded what devices and flavors participants used. Study authors then collected epithelial cell samples for analysis from every participant’s mouth in order to test for damage to specific genes.
Results show that DNA damage was 2.6 times greater in vapers and 2.2 times greater in smokers compared to that of non-users. Interestingly, vapers who used pods had the highest levels of DNA damage, followed by those who used mods — which are larger. The team also found that sweet-flavored vapes had an association with the highest levels of DNA damage, followed by mint and fruit flavors.
These findings are incredibly important to public health, considering that vapes are popular among both adolescents and young adults. In the U.S. alone, over 10 percent of American teens and over three percent of adults use them. The USC researchers argue there should be more transparent messaging about the dangers of e-cigarettes, or at least how they aren’t healthier than tobacco cigarettes.
Besarantinia and the team look ahead to replicating their findings with a larger sample size. They also plan to study other biological effects that come stem from DNA damage.
The findings are published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.