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E-Cigarettes Risks May Include Toxic Exposure to Carcinogenic Chemicals: Study

Amid increasing evidence about the potential e-cigarettes health risks, pediatric experts suggest that teens should be warned that vaping may expose them to toxic carcinogens. 

Most teens who use e-cigarettes believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes. However, in a new study published in the current issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers indicate e-cigarettes expose teens to high levels of toxic chemicals that are carcinogenic to the body.

Researchers with the University of California San Francisco studied the urine and saliva of 103 teen participants who were 16 years old. They were divided into three groups, including those who had never smoked or used e-cigarettes, regular e-cigarette users, and teens who use both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco cigarettes.

The samples were collected within 24 hours of the last e-cigarette use for nicotine and urine analysis. Researchers looked for levels of eight volatile organic chemical compounds.

The study found metabolites of benzene, ethylene oxide, acrylonitrile, acrolein, and acrylamide were significantly higher in dual users compared to e-cigarette only users. However, metabolites of acrylonitrile, acrolein, propylene oxide, acrylamide, and crotonaldehyde were significantly higher in e-cigarette only users compared with the control group.

The data appears to back up past studies, which have indicated that e-cigarettes release more cancer causing agents that most people realize.

The new study indicated e-cigarette vapor may be less hazardous than tobacco smoke, yet it is still not completely safe and exposes the user to carcinogenic chemicals.

Some chemicals were three times higher in the dual use group, but some of the carcinogenic chemicals were three times higher in the e-cigarette-only group. Levels of several toxic cancer-causing compounds were just as high in nicotine-free e-cigarettes as they were among users of nicotine e-cigarettes.

Researchers also found that teens were more likely to use candy-like fruit flavored e-cigarettes. More than half of teens in the e-cigarette only groups said they used fruit flavors more often. About 67% of the dual use group said they used fruit flavors most often.

The popularity of vaping among teens is of concern to many health experts, as research indicates e-cigarette flavorings may pose increased respiratory health risks. A study published in 2016 indicated flavorings may play a role in toxicity.

In the new study, users who preferred fruit flavors tended to vape more frequently and had increased levels of acrylonitrile, a toxin known to cause cancer. However, researchers said it is unclear whether the increased toxin levels are a result of increased e-cigarette use or the flavorings themselves.

Researchers warned that the findings indicate warnings to teens about vaping should include the potential risk of toxic exposure to carcinogenic compounds generated by e-cigarettes. The overall takeaway should be that e-cigarettes are not completely safe, the researchers said.

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