Since e-cigarettes were introduced in 1990, healthcare professionals have worried that advertising claims that these products offer a healthier alternative to cigarettes may be misleading. Specifically, there has been concern that consumers may have false beliefs about the safety of e-cigarettes.
Of the 6% of electronic cigarette-using Americans, 3 million are high school children, so parents are also interested in understanding the health implications of e-cigarette use. Research into e-cigarettes and their impact has picked up in recent years as more and more people have begun using these products.
A new study, published in Science Advances, has contributed new knowledge on what effects e-cigarettes have and how they lead to these effects. To investigate the influence of e-cigarettes on people’s health, the researchers studied genes in people with distinct smoking habits.
The scientists found that those who use e-cigarettes have a specific protein expression pattern that differs significantly from that of both cigarette smokers and controls. The differences in these groups was big enough that when the researchers applied a machine learning technique to their genomic data, the machine learning approach could correctly identify whether a person was an e-cigarette user or not at least 90% of the time.
The effects of e-cigarettes on the immune system were highlighted by this study, which showed that e-cigarette users displayed higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines than people who had never used these products. The stress of e-cigarettes on the areas underlying the gums led to physiological changes that, according to the authors, are consistent with severe periodontitis.
The researchers of this study asked even more specific questions about the mechanisms by which e-cigarettes harm parts of the oral cavity. While their findings begin to uncover these mechanisms, more research is needed to determine exactly what happens to our health when we use e-cigarettes.
This information should and will help to inform policies around appropriate advertising for e-cigarettes and also equip nurses and other healthcare workers to educate patients on the realities of e-cigarettes.
Ganesan, S.M. et al. (2020). Adverse effects of electronic cigarettes on the disease-naïve oral microbiome. Science Advances, 6: eaaz0108