Researchers at Francis Crick Institute (FCI) says while vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes, the long-term health risks aren’t clear.
About 3.6 million people in Britain smoke e-cigarettes and they are commonly used by ex-smokers to help them quit.
Professor Charles Swanton, a clinical scientist at the FCI and chief medical officer at Cancer Research UK, says vaping is a potential threat to people’s health.
“I don’t think we can say vaping is necessarily a safe option to quit smoking. It might be safer but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.”
“We don’t know for sure that e-cigarettes will not cause lung cancer ten years from now.”
Researchers at FCI have conducted studies to understand why some people with lung cancer in the UK – around one in eight patients – are non-smokers, even though smoking is one of the main causes of the disease.
They used studies in humans and mice that measured exposure to soot particles in the air that can cause cancer cells to grow in the lungs.
Their evidence suggests that the pathway that causes tumors in non-smokers is different from that caused by smoking, which is thought to cause a direct mutation in DNA that can lead to cancer.
Their findings suggest that irritants such as air pollution cause inflammation, which is then followed by a healing process that “awakens” dormant cells that can cause cancerous mutations, and researchers fear that vaping may trigger the same process.
While scientists believe that anti-inflammatory drugs can help stop the process that can cause cancer, they warn that this could take years.
Prof. Swanton said: “The mechanism we have identified can help us find better ways to prevent and treat lung cancer without smoking. If we can prevent cells from growing in response to air pollution, we can reduce the risk of lung cancer.”
“Finding ways to prevent or reduce inflammation from air pollution will go a long way to reducing the risk of lung cancer in people who have never smoked,” said Dr. William Hill, another researcher at the American Institute of Medicine.