E-cigarettes are possibly “no better” than smoking regular cigarettes and may cause cancer, scientists have warned.
According to a new study, the vapour from the electronic devices damages and kills human cells during lab tests.
Dr Jessica Wang-Rodriguez, co-author of the study, said: “Based on the evidence, to date, I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.”
The scientists treated cells in Petri dishes with vapour from a nicotine-based e-cigarette and a nicotine-free variety. The cells that had been exposed to the vapour were more likely to become damaged or to die than those that had not. Those containing nicotine were also more harmful than those that did not, although the authors said it may not be as a result of the addictive substance.
Dr Wang-Rodriguez, chief of pathology at the San Diego branch of the US department of veteran affairs, said: “There have been many studies showing that nicotine can damage cells. But we found that other variables can do damage, as well. It’s not that the nicotine is completely innocent in the mix, but it looks like the amount of nicotine that the cells are exposed to by e-cigarettes is not sufficient by itself to cause these changes.
“There must be other components in the e-cigarettes that are doing this damage. So we may be identifying other carcinogenic components that are previously undescribed.
“For now, we were able to at least identify that e-cigarettes, on the whole, have something to do with increased cell death.”
However, the results in the lab tests would not necessarily be the same in a living person, she said, as the amount of vapour used was “similar to someone smoking for hours on end”.
In addition, the cells in the lab “are not completely comparable to cells within a living person... So it could be that e-cigarette vapour has different effects than those seen in the lab”.
Nonetheless, the US researchers, who published their findings in the Oral Oncology journal, concluded: “Our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public”.
The Irish Cancer Society has said it does not “currently recommend e-cigarettes to those trying to quit smoking”.
The sale, advertising and use of e-cigarettes has not been permitted within Health Service Executive facilities, or on HSE campuses, since May, 2014.
Against a backdrop of a booming e-cigarette industry in Ireland, upcoming regulation — in the form of a change to the tobacco retailers’ licencing legislation — will ban sales to minors and ensure all retailers of vaping products obtain a licence.
For information and support on how to quit smoking, call the HSE Quit Team on freefone 1800 201 203.
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