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Claim that vaping damages DNA questioned by researchers

20 December 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1126

Regular use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, has been linked to DNA damage resembling that of smoking, reported a team of scientists.

The research published in Nature Scientific Reports compared gene expression in white blood cells of vapers to that of smokers and people without a history of either vaping or smoking. The scientists from Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles, California, found the expression of genes involved in cellular respiration and immunity to be dysregulated in both vapers and smokers. However, the number of affected genes was several times higher in smokers, compared to vapers.

'Our study, for the first time, investigates the biological effects of vaping in adult e-cigarette users, while simultaneously accounting for their past smoking exposure,' said study lead Professor Ahmad Besaratinia. 'Our data indicate that vaping, much like smoking, is associated with dysregulation of mitochondrial genes and disruption of molecular pathways involved in immunity and the inflammatory response, which govern health versus disease state.'

However, Professor Caitlin Notley and Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, who were not involved in the study, have recently discussed limitations of the study in an article published in The Conversation.

'The study recruited a relatively small number of people who were not representative of the population. And it did not consider other lifestyle habits that may affect the measurements, such as alcohol use', wrote the scientists with a background in public health and addiction research.

The pair also pointed out that although the reported changes in DNA may represent risk factors for disease, the study did not measure any direct effect of vaping on the prevalence of illnesses. They caution this could be misinterpreted by the press and divert from the benefit of using e-cigarettes as a tool to overcome tobacco addiction. 'It is irresponsible to report sensationalist headlines to the public based on complex studies that in reality do not show any real-world harm. Particularly compared to the immense harms to health of tobacco smoking.'

On the other hand, there is also evidence to suggest that vaping can be an entry to nicotine consumption, particularly among teenagers, according to Professor Besaratinia: 'Given the popularity of e-cigarettes among young never-smokers, our findings will be of importance to the regulatory agencies. To protect public health, these agencies are in urgent need of scientific evidence to inform the regulation of the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of e-cigarettes.'

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