Study results: E-cigarettes are not harmless

Study results: E-cigarettes are not harmless

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Trivialization of e-cigarettes inappropriate
Electric cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are being promoted by manufacturers as a healthier alternative to conventional smoking. However, these also entail health risks, according to the advice of the German Society for Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (DGHNO KHC). A recent study confirmed that electric cigarettes damage the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat. In addition, a cancer-causing effect cannot be ruled out. The experts warn that e-cigarettes should never be played down.

The trivialization as a supposedly harmless replacement for conventional cigarettes overlooks the existing health risks associated with electric cigarettes, according to the medical experts. The study confirmed damage to the oral and pharynx mucosa and there were also reports of irritation to the respiratory tract or allergic reactions, explains Professor Dr. med. Martin Canis from the University of Göttingen. In addition, the researchers also doubt that the e-cigarettes are suitable for smoking cessation.

E-cigarettes advertised as safe
E-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people, and more than two million Germans are said to have tried an e-cigarette, reports the German Society for Otorhinolaryngology. Many would test the e-cigarettes out of curiosity or in an effort to overcome their tobacco addiction. Since no tobacco is burned, there is a belief that no cancer-causing substances are produced. The liquids used would also be advertised as harmless. The industry points out that "the liquids propylene glycol (as E 1520) and glycerin (as E 422) are approved additives for food." But they are heated in the e-cigarettes to 65 to 120 degrees. "However, the safety only applies to foods that are intended for consumption," emphasizes Professor Canis.

Respiratory tract irritation and allergic reactions
According to the expert, the inhalation of the vapors is by no means safe. Because "the heating can create new chemical substances" and in addition "the liquids would often contain flavors such as chocolate, fruit or coffee (in addition to the carrier substances), which should improve the taste and are also inhaled." First reports of respiratory tract irritation and allergic reactions are already known. This year, scientists also examined for the first time how e-cigarette liquids affect the healthy oral mucosa. For this purpose, cells from the mucous membrane of the mouth or throat were exposed to different liquids with fruit and tobacco flavors for five hours each for five days. The team around Dr. Christian Welz from the Göttingen University Clinic for Otorhinolaryngology then assessed the proportion of surviving cells and the damage to the genetic material in the cells.

Cell vitality damage and increased DNA damage
The study showed that "every liquid tested resulted in a clear decrease in cell vitality and an increase in DNA damage", explains Professor Canis. Liquids with fruit flavors had even higher cell and genotoxicity than liquids with tobacco flavors. Although the study results could not provide sufficient evidence that e-cigarettes cause cancer, they are a first indication. Further investigations are now urgently needed.

Even if the effects are significantly less than with smoked cigarettes, "the results clearly question the safety of e-cigarettes," emphasizes the expert. In addition, the active ingredient nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive like conventional cigarettes, and the e-cigarettes can be consumed in one piece for a significantly longer period than conventional cigarettes, explains Canis. Therefore, it is doubtful whether e-cigarettes can be used as an aid to smoking cessation. Here, the use of established agents such as nicotine chewing gum or plasters is recommended. The experts welcome the planned ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to children and adolescents. (fp)

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