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E-cigarettes are NO better than regular smoking: Devices can ’cause cancer even when they’re nicotine FREE’

  • E-cigarettes were designed to replace conventional cigarettes
  • But, a new study found that e-cigs are ‘just as unhealthy’ as cigarettes
  • E-cigs were found to cause cancer – even when they don’t have nicotine
  • That’s because they contain toxins that can spark tumor growth
  • This study adds to the growing evidence that e-cigs cause health problems

E-cigarettes can cause cancer – even when they are nicotine-free, scientists have warned.

There is little difference to a person’s health between using the devices and smoking regular cigarettes, a study found.

Toxins found in e-cigarettes trigger the same cell damage that causes cancer.

The finding adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests the devices may cause serious health problems.

The scientists said: ‘Our study strongly suggests electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public.’

Researchers from Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System tested two popular brands of e-cigarettes.

They found that both brands harmed cells in ways that could spark the development of a tumor even with no nicotine – which is the addictive ingredient in tobacco.

Some countries have banned e-cigarettes. However, their use and sale are legal in both the US and UK.

The US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate e-cigarettes, though it has warned of possible health risks.

Yet, the evidence of these health risks are limited – since the devices have only been readily available for less than a decade.

One of the lead authors of the study, Professor Jessica Wang-Rodriquez, of the University of California San Diego, said: ‘There haven’t been many good lab studies on the effects of these products on actual human cells.’

Dr Wang-Rodriquez and her team of scientists created an extract from the vapor of the products.

They used the vapour to treat human cells in petri dishes.

The scientists found that those cells were more likely to suffer DNA damage and die – compared to untreated cells.

The exposed cells, in particular, showed tell-tale ‘strand breaks’ in the familiar double helix of molecules that intertwine.

When one or both break apart and the cellular repair process does not work properly, it can lead to cancer.

The scientists found that the affected cells were also more likely to launch into programmed cell death or cell injury – known as apoptosis and necrosis respectively.

For the main part of the study, the scientists examined normal epithelial cells, which line organs, glands and cavities throughout the body – including the mouth and lungs.

They found that while nicotine caused worse damage, vapour that didn’t contain the chemical was enough to alter them.

Professor Wang-Rodriguez said: ‘There have been many studies showing nicotine can damage cells.

‘But we found other variables can do damage as well.

‘It is not that the nicotine is completely innocent in the mix, but it looks like the amount of nicotine the cells are exposed to by e-cigarettes is not sufficient by itself to cause these changes.’

Lung cancer (pictured) can be caused by regular cigarettes. However, scientists discovered that e-cigarettes can spark the development of a tumor even with no nicotine – which is the addictive ingredient in tobacco.

Lung cancer (pictured) can be caused by regular cigarettes. However, scientists discovered that e-cigarettes can spark the development of a tumor even with no nicotine – which is the addictive ingredient in tobacco.

There must be other components in e-cigarettes that are doing the damage, she added.

‘So we may be identifying other carcinogenic components that are previously undescribed,’ she said.

The scientists are now trying to sort out those other substances and their specific effects.

It is already known that the products contain some troubling chemicals – such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.

Using the products at a low voltage setting may minimise the production of formaldehyde.

Another dangerous chemical contained in e-cigarettes is diacetyl, a flavouring that has been linked to lung disease.

A Harvard University study found it in more than three quarters of flavored e-cigarettes and refill liquids, or ‘e-juice’.

Currently, there are nearly 500 brands of e-cigarettes on the market – in more than 7,000 flavors.

Scientists must now start on identifying all of the problems associated with the products.

Professor Wang-Rodriguez said: ‘For now, we were able to at least identify that e-cigarettes on the whole have something to do with increased cell death.

‘We hope to identify the individual components that are contributing to the effect.’

The accepting lab cells from the study aren’t completely comparable to those within a living person.

Furthermore, the dose did not mimic what an e-cigarette user would get.

Yet, scientists are trying to answer the overarching question of whether e-cigarettes are really any safer than the conventional cigarettes they are designed to replace.

Professor Wang-Rodriquez said: ‘Based on the evidence to date, I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.’

Instead of burning tobacco, e-cigs generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine and other chemicals.

When it is used, the liquid chemicals in the cartridge are turned into a vapour or steam that is inhaled by the smoker.

It is estimated there are currently 2.6 million adults in Great Britain using electronic cigarettes, while regular users in the US number roughly 12.5 million.

The study was published in the journal Oral Oncology.

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