E-cigarette study links metal exposure from vaping to DNA damage

A new study warns that vaping can lead to DNA damage linked to a slew of diseases, including coronary heart disease, leukemia, and even lung cancer. The damage is caused by exposure to high concentrations of metal that originate from the wire used in an electronic cigarette's atomizer. Unlike past studies, this latest research involved measuring the level of biomarkers in vapers' urine.

Though they vary in shape and size, most electronic cigarettes ("vapes") feature the same general design: a wicking agent that absorbs the vaping liquid, which is then exposed to a heating element that vaporizes the liquid as the user inhales.

The heating elements are usually contained in what is referred to as an atomizer, which, in addition to the nichrome heating wire, also usually feature brass clamps and solder. Small particles of the metal are released into the vapor as the metal heats up.

The user then inhales these small metal particles, which can build up in their body, potentially causing various — and serious — health issues. The new study out of the University of California, Riverside found that the urine of electronic cigarette users had elevated levels of biomarkers linked to both metal exposure and to oxidative DNA damage.

Though vapers were found to be exposed to a variety of metals, zinc was particularly high. This same metal is also known to cause cellular oxidative stress at excessive levels, indicating that it is driving the DNA damage found by the study. The biomarkers linked to the DNA damage were higher in electronic cigarette users than in smokers, highlighting the fact that vaping isn't safer than smoking and may, in fact, be worse in some cases.