E-cigs Can Damage DNA: Vaping May Modify DNA, Boosting Cancer Risk


The popularization of electronic cigarettes continues to increase globally, as many individuals perceive them as a safer alternative to smoking.

Leonardo DiCaprio at the SAG Awards with his vape pen; Photo by: Bunte

However the long-term effects of e-cigarette consumption, widely called “vaping,” are unknown.

Today, researchers report that ‘vaping’ may alter the deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in the oral cells of users, which could rise their cancer risk.

“E-cigarettes are a popular trend, but the long-term health effects are unknown,” states Romel Dator, Ph.D., who is presenting the research results at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“We want to characterize the chemicals that vapers are exposed to, as well as any DNA damage they may cause.”

E-cigarettes, introduced to the market in 2004, are electronic handheld devices that heat a liquid, normally containing nicotine, into an aerosol that the partaker inhales. Various flavors of liquids are available, including ones that appeal to youth, such as candy, fruit and chocolate.

According to a 2016 U.S. Surgeon General report, 13.5% of middle school students, 37.7% of high school students and 35.8% of young adults (18 to 24 years of age) have smoked e-cigarettes, compared with 16.4% of older adults (25 years and up).


To delineate chemical exposures during vaping, the researchers hired 5 e-cigarette users.

They retrieved saliva samples before and after a 15-minute vaping session and examined the samples for chemicals that are known to damage DNA.

To assess potential long-term effects of vaping, the team analyzed DNA damage in the cells of the volunteers’ mouths. Balbo and Dator identified 3 DNA-damaging compounds, acrolein, formaldehyde and methylglyoxal, whose levels increased in the saliva following the vaping session.

Compared with people who do not vape, 4 of the 5 e-cigarette users displayed increased DNA damage in relation to acrolein exposure.

The type of damage, termed a DNA adduct, happens when toxic chemicals (such as acrolein) react with DNA. If the cell doesn’t repair the damage so that normal DNA reproduction can occur, cancer could result.


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