Could e-cigarettes be causing cancer?

Written by By Chante Brown, CNN According to a study from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, a quarter of American adults are self-taught vapers. This means that, on a national…

Could e-cigarettes be causing cancer?

Written by By Chante Brown, CNN

According to a study from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, a quarter of American adults are self-taught vapers. This means that, on a national scale, e-cigarettes could be responsible for a quarter of all tobacco-related deaths. The difference? You’d have to smoke cigarettes to reach that number.

The study, published in this month’s journal JAMA, suggests that switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes (also known as electronic cigarettes or e-cigs) may be associated with harmful changes in the structure of your genes.

The researchers specifically looked at the role of two types of genes, beta X and beta Apsin. Beta X genes are involved in DNA replication, while beta Apsin genes are associated with how proteins are regulated in the body. This gene study, however, is just the beginning.

“We can’t conclude that the self-taught vapers carry higher genetic risks for disease. But the research is also provocative because it raises questions about the converse — that there are low-risk behaviors that can become risky when mimicked for long periods,” said the paper’s lead author Dr. Saleem Chaudhry, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in a press release.

Clinicians say the changes in the nucleic acid molecules (DNA) might have been caused by the increased nicotine delivery in e-cigs, combined with the usage of other molecules.

“One of the difficulties we found is that nicotine can interfere with the function of mitochondria, which are part of cells’ power plants,” said the study’s co-author Dr. James Lowney, of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The mitochondria are also responsible for production of proteins that control the function of cells.

These changes in the DNA could lead to altered inflammation and metabolism in the body, according to the study. The authors also found changes in the function of genes that are linked to metabolic syndrome, a condition in which the body becomes permanently fatigued, particularly in people who smoke and have low levels of insulin or triglycerides.

“This paper allows us to suggest at least that the vapers are taking one small step into higher risk behavior. The more important question is whether we can induce this kind of behavior change in conventional smokers,” Lowney added.

How does vaping compare to smoking?

As the researchers noted, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Nicotine is a long-standing chemical in tobacco and if the gene changes are being triggered by vaping rather than cigarette smoking, the researchers say it raises questions about whether reducing smoking could result in lower risk of developing the genetic issues.

“We just can’t generalize to cigarettes. You have to select what kind of nicotine you use to see if these changes are occurring. The issue is that the nicotine intake may be on a continuum,” Lowney said.

Researchers suggest that further research must be conducted before they can accurately say if the vapers have higher or lower risk of disease. However, they do think the findings will make policymakers wonder whether the transition to vaping could prove more dangerous than banning cigarette smoking in public spaces.

CNN reported last year that more than 700,000 Americans were using e-cigarettes at the time.

— Cailyn Cox contributed to this report

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