Laboratory tests of cells exposed to vapors from electronic cigarettes found no cell damage, though cells exposed to cigarette smoke showed extensive damage, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology. The study looked at cells in vitro—outside of the body in a laboratory setting.
Scientists from British American Tobacco, a company that sells both tobacco products and e-cigarettes, performed and reported on the research.
Could Vaping Cause as Much Damage as Smoking?
Researchers exposed a variety of cell cultures to vapors from the Vype ePen, a product produced and distributed by the company associated with the study. They also exposed similar cells to cigarette smoke and a control group to neither vapors nor smoke. Cell damage—which is often a precursor to cancer and other diseases—can be assessed in a number of ways, so the team looked at several.stress, including inflammation and antioxidant response, when exposed to cigarette smoke. Cells exposed to vapors or nothing showed no signs of such stress. Another measure of cell damage—DNA breakage—can be a precursor to cancer, but only cells exposed to cigarette smoke showed this symptom. Cigarette smoke caused cells to clump together and grow in abnormal groups, but vapors did not.
Other E-cigarette Research
The study was authored by scientists sponsored by a company in the interest of the study’s outcome, raising concerns about researcher bias. Other studies have shown different results, and safety assessments of e-cigarettes remain mixed. Another 2016 in vitro study published in the Journal of Molecular Medicine found vaping could damage cells in the airway. The same study also found vaping decreased functioning in neutrophils and macrophages—important immune cells.
Conversely, Linda Bauld, a professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, recently wrote in The Guardian that there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as smoking. Bauld pointed to misleading headlines and problematic research methodologies. She also argued in vitro studies are of limited value, because they do not show how cells behave in the body.
Because e-cigarettes do not produce smoke, which is the primary health concern associated with smoking, manufacturers have claimed they are safe. Even if e-cigarettes are less dangerous than smoking, the chemicals they produce may pose some dangers.
- Bauld, L. (2015, December 31). No, there’s still no evidence e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/sifting-the-evidence/2015/dec/31/no-theres-still-no-evidence-e-cigarettes-are-as-harmful-as-smoking
- Griffin, R. M. (n.d.). E-Cigarettes: Health and safety issues. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/features/electronic-cigarettes
- Hwang, J. H., Lyes, M., Sladewski, K., Enany, S., Mceachern, E., Mathew, D. P., . . . Alexander, L. E. (2016). Electronic cigarette inhalation alters innate immunity and airway cytokines while increasing the virulence of colonizing bacteria. Journal of Molecular Medicine. doi:10.1007/s00109-016-1378-3
- In-vitro testing of Vype vapour revealed no cell stress, DNA damage or malignant transformation. (2016, March 15). Retrieved from http://www.bat-science.com/groupms/sites/BAT_9GVJXS.nsf/vwPagesWebLive/DOA7GFSZ?opendocument
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