Do E-Cigarettes Cause Cancer?
E-cigs are relatively new. Unfortunately, this means that there isn't any long-term data about their safety. In fact, preliminary studies (which are usually small or done in labs) are just starting to be completed.
The unfortunate truth is that we simply do not know at this time if e-cigs are safe (or at least safer than cigarettes) or effective for helping people quit. And we simply do not know whether or not e-cigarettes increase the risk for cancer.
Does this mean they should be banned or highly regulated until we have more information? That is a political question, and your answer will depend on how you view public health issues, personal freedom issues, and the role of the government in regulating industries. Either way, almost everyone can agree that we need more information in the form of larger and longer studies to determine how safe and effective e-cigs really are.
One study, which first came to light in January 2014, has drawn quite a bit of attention. This study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), looked at the effects of e-cigs on lung epithelial cells.
To make matters clear, this study was not performed in actual humans. It was done in human lung epithelial cell lines that had been manipulated to act like lung cells of former smokers. Specifically, researchers caused mutations that turned off a cancer-suppressing gene and turned on a gene that encourages cancer growth.
At the time the researchers went public with their data as a "poster presentation" at the American Association for Cancer Research, their work was still ongoing, with many questions left to answer. But their initial results showed that the cells exposed to e-cig vapor underwent changes very similar to changes in the cells exposed to tobacco.
As you can see, this is a long way from proving that e-cigs cause cancer. But it does highlight the fact that they may not be as harmless as we assume. Much more research is necessary to figure out what exactly this means in terms of actual cancer risk.