Are E-Cigarettes More Harmful Than We Thought?

E-cigarettes are billed as a healthier alternative to smoking that can help ween people off of cigarettes, but new research suggests that e-cigarettes may carry more health risks that initial reviews have led us to believe.

Until now, much of the messaging around e-cigarettes or “vaping” has been that while it is not a perfect solution for those looking to ditchtheir smoking habit, it can help people to improve their health by cutting out many of the harmful chemicalsthat are in conventional cigarettes. Some governments are putting a lot of faith in this, too. The health advisory tied to the UK government is recommending vaping as a way to help people quit smoking, saying that it is 95 percentless harmful than smoking.

The problem with that assertion is research into vaping is relatively new so while the evidence we have now may indeed indicate less harm than smoking, it may not be the final answer. What’s more, some research is showing that the harms of vaping may have been underestimated.

Scientists from the California Universitypublishing in the journal Oral Oncologysay that their research shows e-cigarette smoke can damage human tissue. To investigate how e-cigarette smoke might affect humans the researchers exposed human cells to the smoke from two popular e-cigarettebrands over periods ranging from 48 hours to eight weeks. They compared both nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and non-nicotine containing e-cigarettes. What they found was that nicotine free e-cigarette smoke caused 50 percent more DNA strands to break than normal wastage, while the e-cigarette smoke from the nicotine-inclusive product saw cell damage tripling over the eight week test period. In total, cells exposed to both nicotine and non-nicotine e-cigarette smoke were more likely to die than non-exposed cells.

“There haven’t been many good lab studies on the effects of these products on actual human cells,” Dr. Jessica Wang-Rodriquez, professor of pathology at the University of California, San Diego, is quoted as saying. “Our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public. We were able to 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. Based on the evidence to date I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.”

To be clear, the scientists can’t say with confidence that this damage would occur in the human body. It could be that the specific environments created in the lab to test these effects do not match what would happen in the body and that the body’s tissue would be more resilient. They say that further research is needed.

Supporters of e-cigarette technology have said that this research doesn’t prove anything, and that the best data that we have still shows that e-cigarettesare far less harmful compared to cigarettes.

However, critics of e-cigarettes say that vaping technology has been brought to the market–some would say rushed–as a less damaging alternative to smoking, but that’s based on the notionthat by removing some of the central harmful ingredients in cigarettes that are tied to lung cancer and other health problems, the vaping technology is far less harmful. This might be true, but it doesn’t account for the fact that vaping may introduce new, potentially harmful factors of its own and that, while overall vaping may be less harmful than smoking cigarettes, they may carry their own significant harms that this kind of messagingcould overlook.

The World Health Organization has also raised misgivings about the product saying that what is essentially passive smoking due to e-cigarettes could still be a problem. “The fact that ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) exhaled aerosol contains on average lower levels of toxicants than the emissions from combusted tobacco does not mean that these levels are acceptable to involuntarily exposed bystanders, says a recent WHO report.”In fact, exhaled aerosol is likely to increase, above background levels, the risk of disease to bystanders, especially in the case of some ENDS that produce toxicant levels in the range of that produced by some cigarettes.”

Tests do however show that people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to stay off cigarettes in the long-term and may be more likely to quit. As a result, e-cigarettes seem like they aren’t going anywhere fast, so more research will be necessary to determine exactly what health risks this technology presents without the media marketing and with government complacency–otherwise, we could be replacing one health problem with another very similar one.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

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Megan F.
Megan F.1 years ago

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Megan Flores
New Jersey, USA.

Pennsylvania I.
Pennsylvania I.2 years ago

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Pennsylvania I.
Pennsylvania I.2 years ago

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

Time will tell.

Nicolai L.
Nicolai L3 years ago

i call this article nonsens from tobacco-industry.
It's now more than 6 Years that i Vape E-Cig, and i feel way better as i was smoking Cigarettes (heavy smoker 3-4 packs/Day). I have had only one Cold in the last 6 Years.
I think its important what Quality-Ingredients you Vape.

luna starr
luna starr3 years ago

i will stick with my 4 a day regular cigs

Sharon S.
Sharon S3 years ago

Just can't win, it seems.

Anne Moran
Anne M3 years ago

Yes,, you're still breathing in chemicals... A couple of years ago my girlfriend had a one, and being curious, I tried 4-5 puffs; - the next day my lungs were so sore,, they felt like they were ''on fire'',, just like they used to feel, when I smoked all those years ago [I quit cold turkey some 13 years ago..] They're DEFINITELY poisonous...