In recent years, electronic cigarettes have grown in popularity, partly because it is believed that they pose less of a health risk to smokers. But are they really safe? Researchers at Penn State Medical School have uncovered evidence that these devices produce harmful substances that may, in fact, put users at higher risk of cell damage and cancer.
Highly Reactive Free Radicals Identified
The vapor from e-cigarettes had previously been shown to contain aldehydes in low levels. These compounds are known to cause oxidative stress and damage in cells. The Penn State study looked for different substances—highly reactive free radicals—which are a leading factor in cancer, coronary disease and lung disease caused by smoking. Although the results ranged from 1000 to 100 times less than the quantity found in cigarette smoke, the reactive free radicals were present in e-cigarette vapor.
“The levels of radicals that we’re seeing are more than what you might get from a heavily air-polluted area but less than what you might find in cigarette smoke,” said John P, Ritchie, Jr., one of the authors of the study. “The identification of these radicals in the aerosols means that we can’t just say e-cigarettes are safe because they don’t contain tobacco. They are potentially harmful. Now we have to find out what the harmful effects are.”
A Growing List of Dangers in E-Cigarette Vapor
Studies are showing that the vapors created by e-cigarettes are not as harmless as many users believe. While more studies are needed, researchers have identified harmful effects like these:
- Irritation of the lungs
- Increased susceptibility to respiratory diseases
- Health problems from nicotine use
- Allergic reactions to flavorings & colorings
- Carcinogenic aerosols in the vapors
Until further research is done, the safety of e-cigarettes remains up in the air.
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- Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “Potentially dangerous molecules detected in e-cigarette aerosols.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 December 2015.