Bad News: E-Cigs Alter Cells a Lot Like Tobacco Does

A new cancer study brings more bad news to the e-cigarette industry. Scientists exposed human bronchial cells to e-cig vapor and found that it altered the cells in a way not dissimilar to tobacco. In other words, that delicious, seemingly risk-free nicotine vapor might not be so benign, after all.

Don't worry too much, though, vaping enthusiasts. Science is complicated, and it will take some time before we know exactly how these cells are being altered. To get a little more technical about it, the cells exposed to e-cig vapor "showed a similar pattern of gene expression" to those exposed to tobacco smoke, explains Nature.

The cells were altered, in other words, but it's still unclear if those alterations mean that e-cig vapor causes cancer. But the prognosis doesn't look good. "[E-cigarettes] may be safer [than tobacco]," says lung cancer researcher Avrum Spira who led the study, "but our preliminary studies suggest that they may not be benign."

What makes this study especially unnerving for e-cig smokers (vapers?) is the fact that it comes on the heels of several other studies with damning results. It was just a couple of weeks ago that we learned how the nicotine juice used in e-cigs is poisoning children. And that was just a couple weeks after we learned that e-cig use in teens showed a correlation with tobacco smoking. That read as evidence that instead of deterring people from smoking cigarettes, e-cigs were actually encouraging them to do it. Not just any people, either. Teenagers!

Of course, the smoke blows both ways. There is some evidence that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation tool, though that remains a controversial claim. It's undeniable, however, that vaping instead of smoking means that you avoid inhaling all of that toxic smog that's produced when you light up a cigarette. In other words, while smoking e-cigarettes may harm you a little bit, it almost certainly harms you less than real cigarettes.

Nevertheless, the list of bad news for the e-cig industry goes on, and studies like this week are bound to impact how the Federal Drug Administration decides to regulate the Wild West that is the e-cig industry, a decision that's due out any day now. Of course, the government's been at war with the e-cig industry for some time. Another negative study is just more ammunition for that rule-making arsenal, making it more likely that vaping will be banned altogether or at least as heavily restricted as tobacco.

Or, as some would argue, it's just another reason to smoke weed instead. At least the green doesn't cause cancer—or, rather, cannabis advocates say it doesn't. And you can vape it to your heart's content. [Nature via Motherboard]