Reevaluating the Recent Study on Vaping and DNA Changes

A recent study published in Cancer Research has stirred the public and media with its findings on DNA methylation changes linked to carcinogenesis in both cigarette smokers and e-cigarette users. However, a closer examination and expert insights suggest that the implications of these findings might not be as alarming as initially presented.

In the study, researchers identified specific DNA changes in the buccal epithelial cells of smokers to be also present in e-cigarette users with a limited smoking history. These changes are associated with elevated methylation in cancer tissues and were suggested as potential drivers of carcinogenesis. While highlighting the shared presence of DNA methylation changes, experts cautioned against drawing direct correlations to cancer risk. The epigenetic changes observed are common to both groups, yet epidemiological data do not support a uniform cancer risk across these populations. This discrepancy underscores the importance of interpreting biomarker findings within the broader context of known cancer outcomes and risk factors.

These findings led to headlines such as “Vaping ‘linked to cancer and damages body like smoking’” from The Times and “Fears vaping could cause CANCER” from The Mail, which has contributed to a groundless wave of concern. Yet, these headlines grossly overinterpret the findings without acknowledging the complexity of cancer development and the actual risks associated with vaping compared to smoking.

While the findings are noteworthy, they do not directly establish a link between vaping and cancer, as experts have emphasised. For instance, Dr. Mangesh Thorat and George Laking pointed out the importance of distinguishing short-term cellular changes from long-term alterations that increase cancer risk. Prof. Peter Shields even suggested that the data indicate vapers may resemble never-smokers more closely, potentially implying a lower cancer risk from vaping.

Additionally, Clive Bates, a well-respected voice in the tobacco harm reduction community, criticised the study for not considering the vastly different cancer risks between smokers and users of modern smokeless tobacco products, as evidenced by epidemiological data from the US and Scandinavia.

Research by Dr Stephens from St. Andrews University in 2018 presents a contrasting view. This study demonstrated that the risk of cancer from e-cigarettes, in comparison to traditional smoking, is less than half a per cent. Such findings provide essential context to the ongoing debate and underscore the potential of vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking.

In conclusion, while the study contributes to our understanding of how tobacco products and e-cigarettes may influence the epigenome, its findings should not be taken as conclusive evidence of a cancer risk from vaping. The leap from identifying biomarkers to predicting cancer development is significant, and current evidence, including the study by Dr. Stephens, suggests that the risks associated with vaping are likely lower than those associated with smoking. 

For a more in-depth discussion and expert reactions, visit the Science Media Centre. Let’s continue the conversation with an informed perspective, recognising the role of harm reduction in public health strategies.


Sign up to our Newsletter

Other Table

Social Media Feed Maybe?

Act now!

Vaping can save 200 million lives. 2022 is the year to make this opportunity a reality. Raise your voice. Join our campaign. 

Join Us

Vaping može spasiti 200 milijuna života, a okusi igraju ključnu ulogu u pomaganju pušačima da prestanu pušiti. Međutim, kreatori politike žele ograničiti ili zabraniti okuse, dovodeći naše napore da zaustavimo smrtne slučajeve povezane s pušenjem u opasnost.


Vaša adresa e-pošte neće biti objavljena. Obavezna polja su označena sa * (obavezno)