UConn Researcher: E-Cigarettes as Harmful as Tobacco

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have revealed evidence that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, may be as harmful as tobacco cigarettes. Since e-cigarettes came on the market in 2004, there has been considerable debate on their safety, as well as the potential adverse health effects on users. E-cigarettes have risen in popularity in recent years as many consider them a "safer" alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.

Now, a just-published study by chemists at the University of Connecticut offers new evidence that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are potentially as harmful as tobacco cigarettes.  The contents of e-cigarettes -- known as e-liquid or e-juice -- contain propylene glycol, glycerine, nicotine and flavorings.

Using a low-cost, 3-D printed testing device, UConn researchers found that e-cigarettes loaded with a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage.

“Some people use e-cigarettes heavily because they think there is no harm,” said Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher in UConn’s chemistry department and the study’s lead author. “We wanted to see exactly what might be happening to DNA, and we had the resources in our lab to do that.”

The researchers found that vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes caused as much DNA damage as filtered cigarettes, possibly due to the many chemical additives present in e-cigarette vapors. Cellular mutations caused by DNA damage can lead to cancer.

The findings appear in the journal ACS Sensors, a publication of the American Chemical Society.  ACS Sensors is a peer-reviewed research journal that is devoted to the dissemination of new and original knowledge on all aspects of sensor science that selectively sense chemical or biological species or processes.  Since publication, the research has been widely featured in the news media across the country.

How much DNA damage e-cigarettes cause depends on the amount of vapor the user inhales, the other additives present, whether nicotine or non-nicotine liquid is used, and other factors, according to Kadimisetty.

“From the results of our study, we can conclude that e-cigarettes have as much potential to cause DNA damage as unfiltered regular cigarettes,” Kadimisetty told UConn Today.

How much e-cigarettes contribute to serious health problems and whether they serve as a gateway for future tobacco smokers remains the subject of debate among scientists, legislators and the public. A year ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tightened some regulations on e-cigarettes due to concerns that were raised.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat up liquid and turn it into an aerosol vapor that can be inhaled. Using e-cigarettes is also called ‘vaping.’ The contents of e-cigarettes, called e-liquid or e-juice, are usually made up of propylene glycol, glycerine, nicotine, and flavorings such as menthol, cherry, vanilla, or mint. Non-nicotine e-cigarettes are also available.

Joining Kadimisetty and Rusling on the study, UConn Today reported, was former UConn Ph.D. student Spundana Malla, now a scientist at Alliance Pharma in Pennsylvania. The study was supported by funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

Photo: UConn postdoctoral researcher Karteek Kadimisetty. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)