The rising use of e-cigarettes, which have been available since 1990, is causing concern amongst many physicians and healthcare professionals. Given that the 6% of Americans that use e-cigarette includes 3 million high school-aged children, parents also worry about the implications of e-cigarette use, such as the long-term consequences of using e-cigarettes during one’s teen years. A new study published in Science Advances has helped to uncover the specific ways that the cigarettes may adversely affect those who use them.
The researchers who conducted the study analyzed aspects of the genes of those with different types of smoking habits and found that e-cigarette users have a pattern of protein expression that is distinct from that of both smokers and controls. For instance, proinflammatory cytokines were observed at higher levels in e-cigarette users than in people who never smoked, pointing to the impact of e-cigarettes on the immune system. According to the authors, the stress that e-cigarettes puts on the subgingival environment leads to physiological changes that are similar to what is observed in patients with severe periodontitis.
The observed differences between e-cigarette users and nonusers were significant enough that a machine learning platform was able to identify e-cigarette users from the genomics data of the pool of participants. The machine learning technique was associated with 90% sensitivity and 97% specificity with respect to identifying e-cigarette users. In other words, 90% of those identified by machine learning as e-cigarette users were in fact e-cigarette users, and 97% of those that machine learning categorized as non-e-cigarette users did not use e-cigarettes.
In addition to demonstrating that e-cigarette use can harm health, this study also helped to elucidate the mechanisms by which e-cigarettes impart their adverse effects. Based on their findings, the authors suggest that the e-cigarettes may jeopardize health and that the advertising messages that suggest that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to cigarettes are problematic. More research will help to clarify the specific effects of e-cigarettes and how we can provide appropriate guidelines with respect to their use.
Ganesan, S.M. et al. (2020). Adverse effects of electronic cigarettes on the disease-naïve oral microbiome. Science Advances, 6: eaaz0108