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Electronic cigarettes are not a healthier alternative to tobacco, according to a study conducted at the UMH

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Vapers or electronic cigarettes contain substances that can be harmful, toxic, and even life-threatening by inhalation. The graduate in Environmental Sciences from the Miguel Hernández University (UMH) of Elche Daniel Muñoz Ortiz has focused his Final Degree Project on studying the danger of the chemical substances contained in the aerosols that are generated during the consumption of electronic cigarettes. Of the total of 127 compounds found, several are poisonous, cause cancer, genetic alterations, or reproductive problems. The work concludes that the sales strategy of these products, which are intended to be a healthier alternative to conventional tobacco, is not supported by scientific evidence.

Electronic cigarettes
Image by Ethan Parsa from Pixabay

Electronic cigarettes or vapers are devices that contain a liquid with substances such as propylene glycol, glycerine and flavourings. The device vaporizes the mixture, which is inhaled by the consumer and then partially exhaled into the environment. Vapers do not contain tobacco, but they can contain nicotine, which is “very toxic” when inhaled, says the UMH professor of Toxicology and director of the work, Miguel Ángel Sogorb Sánchez.

The UMH graduate has reviewed the most recent analyses carried out to date on the substances contained in the vapor of these devices and has classified the more than one hundred chemical compounds found in the vapor of electronic cigarettes according to whether they pose a danger to lung health, genetics, cancer, or reproduction.

Muñoz found dozens of substances that are harmful or potentially harmful to health. For example, carcinogens such as hydrazine or o-anisidine; also, carbon monoxide, which is toxic to the foetus in case of pregnancy; ethylene oxide, which causes infertility; inhalation poisons such as nicotine and benzene; other toxic by aspiration such as toluene; and compounds such as benzene, which produces DNA alterations and cancer.

Daniel Muñoz explains that, although electronic cigarettes are advertised as healthier alternatives to traditional tobacco consumption, “this marketing strategy is not at all scientifically justified.” In his study, he found a total of 127 chemicals in vaping-generated aerosols. “Many of these substances are toxic by inhalation, although it seems that the risk of adverse effects is low.” Also, he found substances that are toxic for reproduction “and the risk to reproduction derived from the consumption of electronic cigarettes has not yet been studied in depth,” explains Muñoz.

Despite its harmful effects, ‘vaping’ is on the rise in Spain, according to the latest data reported by the Ministry of Health. Practically half of the students between the ages of 14 and 18 have used electronic cigarettes at some time, while only 12% of young people believe that their consumption leads to problems.

Thus, the majority of consumers are young, smokers, smokers who want to quit or ex-smokers. Part of the increase in consumption, explains Muñoz, is due to marketing strategies based on an alleged lower risk than traditional tobacco or as a possible way to quit the habit. “However,” Muñoz clarifies, “the safety of vapers has not been demonstrated, which makes it a danger to Public Health.”

In 2019, the first cases of Electronic Cigarette Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) were reported. In addition, the consumption of vapers is beginning to be associated with cardiovascular effects, respiratory diseases, cancer, and mutagenic lesions (which cause DNA damage). For these latter complications, Muñoz explains in his work, “there is no threshold dose that we can consider safe, and we can guarantee the absence of effects for exposures below that threshold.” That is, it is not known whether a small dose of substances is enough to cause cancer or damage DNA. “This implies that both vape users and those around them run the risk of suffering the consequences,” explains Professor Miguel Ángel Sogorb.

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