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April 11th, 2014:

Study finds cancer risk in e-cig vapors

Changes in cells exposed to vapor are similar to those in cells exposed to tobacco smoke

Promoters of electronic cigarettes have been claiming that inhaling the vapor from e-cigs is less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes made from tobacco.

It sounds good but is it true? Maybe not.

A new study published in the academic journal Clinical Cancer Research finds that the vapor from e-cigarettes damages human cells in much the same way as the smoke from traditional cigarettes.

Scientists at Boston University grew a batch of human bronchial cells in the presence of e-cig vapor and another batch in the presence of tobacco smoke. The result: the two batches of cells showed similar patterns of gene expression, which can cause the mutations that lead to cancer.

Lead researcher Avrum Spira, M.D., said that while e-cigs may be safer than tobacco, “our preliminary studies suggest that they may not be benign.” He said more research is needed.

“New route to … addiction”

It’s hardly the study to find potential problems with e-cigs. In March, a University of California San Francisco study found that e-cigs may be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction.

UCSF researchers found that adolescents who used the devices were more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking. The study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.

“Despite claims that e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking, we found that e-cigarettes were associated with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents,” said lead author Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

“E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco,” she said.

Poison control

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report finding a huge increase in the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine.

A CDC study published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report says calls shot up from 1 per month in September 2010 to 215 per month this past February. And, the report says, the number of calls per month involving conventional cigarettes did not show a similar increase during the same time period.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called the increase in poisoning cases “alarming” and said the report “should serve as a wake-up call to the American people that it is time for the FTC and the FDA to regulate these products to help prevent more tragedies.”

“I am particularly concerned that many e-cigarettes are packaged in bright colors and flavored to smell like candy or fruit, which puts children at higher risk of poisoning,” Boxer said.