Electronic Cigarettes

Last Modified: November 20, 2009

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I looked into this question recently and the quality of data is poor and does not allow a definitive answer to this question. The FDA recently evaluated the question and expressed concern. I'm also not an expert on e-cigs (I'm not sure that anyone properly is), but I do know that nicotine itself is a confirmed mutagen. Mutagens are chemicals that cause mutations, or changes in DNA. A normal body cell becomes a cancer cell by acquiring mutations in several keys genes (which ones vary from cancer to cancer). Also, there was some stuff at World Lung this year on lung cancers actually bearing receptors for nicotine, raising the idea that nicotine itself could help drive their growth. So while I suspect that e-cigs may be less harmful than "real" cigs, they probably aren't harmless.

Answer

Jared Weiss, MD, a Fellow in Hematology & Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

I looked into this question recently and the quality of data is poor and does not allow a definitive answer to this question. The FDA recently evaluated the question and expressed concern. I'm also not an expert on e-cigs (I'm not sure that anyone properly is), but I do know that nicotine itself is a confirmed mutagen. Mutagens are chemicals that cause mutations, or changes in DNA. A normal body cell becomes a cancer cell by acquiring mutations in several keys genes (which ones vary from cancer to cancer). Also, there was some stuff at World Lung this year on lung cancers actually bearing receptors for nicotine, raising the idea that nicotine itself could help drive their growth. So while I suspect that e-cigs may be less harmful than "real" cigs, they probably aren't harmless.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Lung Cancer: Where are We Now? View the entire transcript.

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