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Can vaping cause changes in our cells?

by Julia Cotterill | Analysis

20 March 2024

8 comments 8 comments

Several disposable e-cigarettes in different colours
Shutterstock


You may have seen recent media coverage of a study that looked at changes in different types of cells from people who smoked and people who vaped. In this article, we take a closer look at what the researchers did, what they found and what the results of the study could mean. 

Does this study show that vaping causes cancer? 

No. The type of change that this study looked at is different from changes to a cell’s DNA sequence (mutations). This study shows that some changes were there but not what they might be doing.  So, we don’t have enough information yet to understand what these findings mean in terms of any potential health effects. 

E-cigarettes haven’t been around for long enough for us to know what their longer-term health effects could be. So, vaping isn’t risk-free and children and people who have never smoked shouldn’t vape. But research overall still finds that legal vaping is far less harmful than smoking and can help people who smoke to stop. 

What did the researchers do?

The researchers looked at chemical ‘marks’ that add information to the genetic code in our DNA. This is called epigenetics. It’s a bit like highlighting or adding notes to a page in a book – the words themselves don’t change, but we read them differently. The epigenetic marks affect how our cells ‘read’ the instructions in their genes. 

Epigenetic changes ‘turn on’ or ‘turn off’ genes. They’re a way for cells to respond to what’s happening around them by following the instructions from the right gene(s). Epigenetic changes can be temporary and reverse when they’re no longer needed, whereas genetic mutations in our DNA tend to be permanent.  

In this study, the researchers looked into a type of epigenetic change called methylation, in which a small molecule (made up of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms, a ‘methyl group’) gets attached to some of the building blocks of DNA. In particular, they focused on methylation in different types of cells in people who smoked but also looked at it in a small number of people who vaped and another small group of people who used smokeless tobacco. 

What did the study find?

The study found methylation changes in cells taken from people who smoked, including cheek (which are directly exposed to smoke), cervical (which aren’t) and blood cells. The kind of changes seen varied depending on the type of cell. As mentioned above, epigenetic changes can be temporary, enabling cells to respond to their environment and then stop when the response is no longer needed. The researchers found variation in methylation patterns depending on how long someone had smoked for, and some changes were only seen in samples from people who currently smoked and not in people who had stopped smoking.  

The researchers also compared methylation changes in cell DNA samples from people who vaped with those from people who smoked. They found some similarities between the kinds of changes seen in people who vaped and people who smoked. 

What does it mean?

This research is at an early stage, so we don’t have enough information yet to understand what the findings mean. For example, the study looked at some changes that were seen in cell DNA samples, not how the cells with those changes were behaving compared to cells without the changes. 

When two things occur together, it could mean that: 

  1. one is causing the other;  
  2. they could also be there by chance; or  
  3. they could both be caused by a third factor that we don’t know yet.  

So, the epigenetic changes could be part of our cells’ response to cigarette smoke or e-cigarette vapour, they could be unrelated or they could be caused by something else that was affecting both the study participants who smoked and the participants who vaped.  

There were also some limitations to what the study was able to do, for example, participants who vaped may have smoked in the past, so we can’t be completely sure that the changes seen weren’t caused by previous smoking.  

Should I stop vaping?

If you used to smoke and are vaping to help you to stay off tobacco, the most important thing is not to go back to smoking. So, if you’re thinking of stopping vaping, make sure you only do so if you think you won’t start smoking again. If you think there’s a risk that you’ll smoke if you stop vaping, talk to your free local stop smoking service, GP or pharmacist for advice on stopping vaping or switching to an alternative stop smoking tool. 

Because vaping isn’t risk free, it’s important that children and people who have never smoked don’t start to vape. By contrast, however, decades of research have proven the harmful effects of smoking, which kills one person every five minutes in the UK. Research so far has found that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and can help people to stop. So, if you smoke and want to stop, e-cigarettes are an option.  

What could epigenetics research mean in the future?

Epigenetics is an interesting area of research and we look forward to seeing what future studies can tell us about cancer and how it develops.  

What are the UK governments doing about smoking and vaping?

In October 2023, the UK Government announced plans to create the first ever smokefree generation by raising the age of sale of tobacco as well as action to tackle youth vaping. Today, those plans are being introduced in Parliament as the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. 

Under the Bill, anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 will never legally be able to be sold tobacco. 

    Comments

  • Leigh Bulgacs
    14 May 2024

    As an individual who once believed in the promise of vaping as a safer alternative to smoking, I embarked on a journey that ultimately led me to a profound realization: prioritizing my health over convenience was paramount.

    It’s undeniable that traditional tobacco products wreak havoc on our bodies, causing irreversible damage to our lungs and increasing the risk of life-threatening diseases like cancer. In my quest for a healthier alternative, I turned to vaping, hoping to break free from the chains of tobacco addiction.

    However, my experience with vaping proved to be far from the panacea I had envisioned. Despite its touted benefits, vaping failed to satisfy my cravings and instead left me feeling depleted and unwell. Dehydration, coupled with a lack of essential nutrients from improper eating habits, took its toll on my body, manifesting in alarming symptoms such as liver pain and debilitating fatigue.

    Concerned for my well-being, I sought medical advice and underwent a liver scan, revealing unsettling fatty deposits in my liver—a stark reminder of the detrimental effects of vaping on my health. Faced with this sobering reality, I made a conscious decision to reclaim control of my life and pursue a healthier lifestyle.

    Quitting vaping marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation. Freed from the shackles of addiction, I experienced a newfound sense of vitality and vigor. The burden of liver pain lifted, replaced by an abundance of energy and vitality that I had long forgotten.

    Today, I stand as living testimony to the power of resilience and determination in overcoming adversity. By embracing the simple pleasures of life and relinquishing the harmful habits that once held me captive, I have unlocked a world of boundless possibilities.

    To those who may find themselves ensnared by the allure of vaping or any other harmful habit, I implore you to heed this cautionary tale. Embrace the gift of life with gratitude and reverence, for it is a precious treasure to be cherished and nurtured.

    In closing, let us remember that true fulfillment lies not in succumbing to the temptations of vice, but in embracing the purity of existence and breathing the air as nature intended. As I bask in the radiance of newfound health and vitality, I invite you to join me on this transformative journey towards a brighter, healthier future.

    Yours in health and healing,

    Leigh

  • Sharon Norgate
    2 May 2024

    I think until there is solid proof that vaping is as bad as cigarettes then people should stop putting fake news on the internet. Smoking contains over 7000 toxins, including tar that they use on the roads , vaping has about 5 substances in and is actually around 95% safer than smoking . My Dr adviced me to switch to vaping to quit the cancer sticks , which I did , my breathing has improved loads and my horrid,rattly smokers cough I had for years had gone , I no longer get out of breath just walking up the stairs. I agree if people have never smoked then they shouldn’t just start vaping and kids shouldn’t do it either . But my Dr said the nail thing in vapes is nicotine, which is not harmful at all , it’s just addictive. We breath in toxins every time we leave the house , with all the car fumes and pollution that’s in the air .
    The reason the government don’t want people quitting smoking and start vaping is because there’s millions weeks millions of pounds to be made in smoking and killing millions of people a year . There is no money to be made in the vaping . What’s more important, people’s health or money …
    The government are the most untrustworthy ,lying snakes on the planet.
    And until there is concrete proof people should vape to quit the cancer sticks.

  • Christian
    23 March 2024

    Every way of smoking, including vaping, is, in my layman understanding, a huge cancer risk. After all, you inhale smoke with plenty of dangerous ingredients that go right up your brain, down your throat and also down your lungs and no one could ever convince me that this is healthy or free of any cancer danger. There are other articles on this (great) website, which clearly explain that the greatest dangers of developing cancer are drinking alcohol and smoking. Luckily, I have never smoked anything in my entire life and I have no interest in starting this, in fact I am very disgusted if someone on the streets is smoking and I have to pass by or even walk behind that person, which makes me holding my breath until I got away, yet, from my observation while walking the streets, when somebody is vaping the clouds are way thicker and the smell seems to go way farther than the smell of burning tobacco. To me, those are clearly warning signs that vaping may even be far more dangerous, also when it comes to cancer development, than smoking cigarettes, although I highly advise to stay away from any kind of smoking anyway. And I would not be surprised if later studies will finally figure out that vaping is indeed coming with a far greater risk than smoking cigarettes, although, again, my layman advise is to just stay away from smoking anything, no matter what it is.

  • Falling in Reverse fan!
    22 March 2024

    WOAH! This shared a lot of info about how bad vaping is!

  • Stephen Branney
    22 March 2024

    Cancer research has a responsibility to protect the public, not the Corporations pushing Vapes on the population under the guise of “safer than cigarettes”. This is akin to saying there is no evidence that walking across the motorway with a blindfold on is unsafe because there is no evidence to suggest you would get run over (as no one has carried out a real study to confirm or deny this)

  • Simon
    21 March 2024

    This nanny state will not stop me vaping it saved me from smoking and your never stop children smoking just like cannabis

  • DC
    20 March 2024

    Nobody has ever asked my husband about his vaping – e-cigarette use despite having lung cancer🙀 what is going on?

  • Simon
    20 March 2024

    Methyl is not a molecule (the closest molecule to it is methane). It is usually called a group (or, maybe, a moiety).

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read our comment policy.

    Comments

  • Leigh Bulgacs
    14 May 2024

    As an individual who once believed in the promise of vaping as a safer alternative to smoking, I embarked on a journey that ultimately led me to a profound realization: prioritizing my health over convenience was paramount.

    It’s undeniable that traditional tobacco products wreak havoc on our bodies, causing irreversible damage to our lungs and increasing the risk of life-threatening diseases like cancer. In my quest for a healthier alternative, I turned to vaping, hoping to break free from the chains of tobacco addiction.

    However, my experience with vaping proved to be far from the panacea I had envisioned. Despite its touted benefits, vaping failed to satisfy my cravings and instead left me feeling depleted and unwell. Dehydration, coupled with a lack of essential nutrients from improper eating habits, took its toll on my body, manifesting in alarming symptoms such as liver pain and debilitating fatigue.

    Concerned for my well-being, I sought medical advice and underwent a liver scan, revealing unsettling fatty deposits in my liver—a stark reminder of the detrimental effects of vaping on my health. Faced with this sobering reality, I made a conscious decision to reclaim control of my life and pursue a healthier lifestyle.

    Quitting vaping marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation. Freed from the shackles of addiction, I experienced a newfound sense of vitality and vigor. The burden of liver pain lifted, replaced by an abundance of energy and vitality that I had long forgotten.

    Today, I stand as living testimony to the power of resilience and determination in overcoming adversity. By embracing the simple pleasures of life and relinquishing the harmful habits that once held me captive, I have unlocked a world of boundless possibilities.

    To those who may find themselves ensnared by the allure of vaping or any other harmful habit, I implore you to heed this cautionary tale. Embrace the gift of life with gratitude and reverence, for it is a precious treasure to be cherished and nurtured.

    In closing, let us remember that true fulfillment lies not in succumbing to the temptations of vice, but in embracing the purity of existence and breathing the air as nature intended. As I bask in the radiance of newfound health and vitality, I invite you to join me on this transformative journey towards a brighter, healthier future.

    Yours in health and healing,

    Leigh

  • Sharon Norgate
    2 May 2024

    I think until there is solid proof that vaping is as bad as cigarettes then people should stop putting fake news on the internet. Smoking contains over 7000 toxins, including tar that they use on the roads , vaping has about 5 substances in and is actually around 95% safer than smoking . My Dr adviced me to switch to vaping to quit the cancer sticks , which I did , my breathing has improved loads and my horrid,rattly smokers cough I had for years had gone , I no longer get out of breath just walking up the stairs. I agree if people have never smoked then they shouldn’t just start vaping and kids shouldn’t do it either . But my Dr said the nail thing in vapes is nicotine, which is not harmful at all , it’s just addictive. We breath in toxins every time we leave the house , with all the car fumes and pollution that’s in the air .
    The reason the government don’t want people quitting smoking and start vaping is because there’s millions weeks millions of pounds to be made in smoking and killing millions of people a year . There is no money to be made in the vaping . What’s more important, people’s health or money …
    The government are the most untrustworthy ,lying snakes on the planet.
    And until there is concrete proof people should vape to quit the cancer sticks.

  • Christian
    23 March 2024

    Every way of smoking, including vaping, is, in my layman understanding, a huge cancer risk. After all, you inhale smoke with plenty of dangerous ingredients that go right up your brain, down your throat and also down your lungs and no one could ever convince me that this is healthy or free of any cancer danger. There are other articles on this (great) website, which clearly explain that the greatest dangers of developing cancer are drinking alcohol and smoking. Luckily, I have never smoked anything in my entire life and I have no interest in starting this, in fact I am very disgusted if someone on the streets is smoking and I have to pass by or even walk behind that person, which makes me holding my breath until I got away, yet, from my observation while walking the streets, when somebody is vaping the clouds are way thicker and the smell seems to go way farther than the smell of burning tobacco. To me, those are clearly warning signs that vaping may even be far more dangerous, also when it comes to cancer development, than smoking cigarettes, although I highly advise to stay away from any kind of smoking anyway. And I would not be surprised if later studies will finally figure out that vaping is indeed coming with a far greater risk than smoking cigarettes, although, again, my layman advise is to just stay away from smoking anything, no matter what it is.

  • Falling in Reverse fan!
    22 March 2024

    WOAH! This shared a lot of info about how bad vaping is!

  • Stephen Branney
    22 March 2024

    Cancer research has a responsibility to protect the public, not the Corporations pushing Vapes on the population under the guise of “safer than cigarettes”. This is akin to saying there is no evidence that walking across the motorway with a blindfold on is unsafe because there is no evidence to suggest you would get run over (as no one has carried out a real study to confirm or deny this)

  • Simon
    21 March 2024

    This nanny state will not stop me vaping it saved me from smoking and your never stop children smoking just like cannabis

  • DC
    20 March 2024

    Nobody has ever asked my husband about his vaping – e-cigarette use despite having lung cancer🙀 what is going on?

  • Simon
    20 March 2024

    Methyl is not a molecule (the closest molecule to it is methane). It is usually called a group (or, maybe, a moiety).

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read our comment policy.