Scientists find similar levels of carcinogens in traditional and e-cigarette users

Vaping devices like the popular Juul may raise oral cancer risks just as much as traditional cigarettes, new research warns. 

In fact, those who used smokeless tobacco devices had the highest levels of certain carcinogenic chemicals linked to cancers of the mouth and throat out of any group of tobacco product users. 

Many of the estimated eight million adults that use e-cigarettes have chosen them as ‘safer’ alternatives to combustible cigarettes, but the devices are still quite new and the full scope of their health effects is being determined. 

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco discovered vapers may not be much safer from nicotine or cancers of the throat and mouth than they were when they were smoking cigarettes. 

E-cigarette users may be exposed to just as many chemicals linked to throat, mouth and lung cancers as smokers are, new research suggests 

US regulators treat adults’ e-cigarette use with a sort of cautious optimism, and teenagers’ use of the devices as somewhat alarming. 

All tobacco products contain nicotine, the compound responsible for both the ‘buzz’ and the hard-to-break addiction associated with smoking (or vaping or dipping). 

Regular cigarettes contain some 7,000 chemicals and smoking them means inhaling compounds from tar, formaldehyde, tar and carbon monoxide, among others. 

E-cigarette liquid contains fewer dangerous substances – that we know of so far – but just because we know of fewer harms from them does not mean they are completely safe. 

Past research has identified traces of metals in e-cigarette liquids and others studies suggest the devices cardiovascular effects may be as bad or worse than those of traditional cigarettes. 

But the relationship between e-cigarettes and cancers – including lung, throat and oral – are still being discovered and are a priority to the research collaborators at the International and american Associations for Dental Research (IAADR).  

To expand our understanding of vaping’s carcinogenic risks, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco looked at markers of overall nicotine intake, and levels of a group of carcinogens called tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). 

When they measured these in the urine of some 49,000 Americans who smoke, use smokeless tobacco and non-smokers, they found that there were more similarities between users of smokeless tobacco and smokers than between the former and non-smokers.

Unsurprisingly, everyone that used any form of tobacco had elevated levels of nicotine in their systems, according to the findings presented at IAADR’s annual congress last week. 

But more importantly, markers of TSNAs were actually higher in those who used smokeless tobacco products, including chewing tobacco users, e-cigarette users, and those who used both smokeless and combustible tobacco.  

There was some measure of good news for e-cigarette users in the study. Those who only vaped had lower levels of the two chemicals associated with oral and lung cancers, respectively. 

Because about 80 percent of those with oral cancers use combustible or chewing tobacco or snuff, e-cigarettes may have at least marginally lower effects on risks for this disease. 

Similarly, cigarette smoking is linked to somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of lung cancers. 

But the bigger issue is that the majority of the population the researchers took samples from still use both smokeless and combustible tobacco products. 

This puts a bit of a wrinkle in the widely-held notion that while e-cigarettes may get teenagers addicted to nicotine and lead ultimately to cigarette smoking, they could also be an important smoking cessation tool for adults. 

‘The analysis shows that the vast majority of non-cigarette tobacco users are exposed to carcinogen levels comparable to or exceeding exposure among exclusive cigarette smokers – levels that are likely to place users at substantial risk,’ according to a press release from IAADR.