Vaping causes similar DNA damage to smoking – as study links e-cigarettes to cancer risk

20 March 2024

By Niamh Lynch, Sky News

Scientists at University College London found that vape users and smokers suffered similar changes to their DNA. These changes are linked to the future development of lung cancer in smokers.

Vaping damages the DNA of its users in a similar way to smokers who develop cancer, a new study has revealed.

Researchers at University College London found that vape users and cigarette smokers had similar changes to the DNA of cells in their mouth – with these changes linked to the future development of lung cancer in smokers.

It is the first major study to link vapes, also known as e-cigarettes, and an increased risk of cancer – but scientists said further research is required.

The study, published in Cancer Research, studied DNA from more than 3,500 people.

One of the study’s authors, Professor Martin Widschwendter, said vapes “might not be as harmless as originally thought”.

The lead author Dr Chiara Herzog added: “While the scientific consensus is that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco, we cannot assume they are completely safe to use and it is important to explore their potential long-term risks and links to cancer.

The NHS has said e-cigarettes are substantially safer than smoking tobacco and smokers are recommended to switch to vaping to improve their health.

But the DNA changes were also observed in vape users who had smoked fewer than 100 tobacco cigarettes in their lives.

‘E-cigarettes not risk-free’

Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy, said: “This study contributes to our understanding of e-cigarettes, but it does not show that e-cigarettes cause cancer.

“Decades of research has proven the link between smoking and cancer, and studies have so far shown that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and can help people quit,” he said.

“This paper does, however, highlight that e-cigarettes are not risk-free, and so we need additional studies to uncover their potential longer-term impacts on human health.”

MPs are set to vote today on legislation that would restrict flavours and promotions of vapes, as well as ban smoking altogether for those born after 1 January 2009.

Dr Walker added: “Smoking tobacco causes 150 cases of cancer every single day in the UK, which is why we look forward to seeing the government’s age of sale legislation being presented in parliament.

“Nothing would have a bigger impact on reducing the number of preventable deaths in the UK than ending smoking, and this policy will take us one step closer to a smoke-free future.”