June 12 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Connecticut found evidence that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, may be as harmful as tobacco cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have risen in popularity in recent years as many consider them a "safer" alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. The contents of e-cigarettes -- known as e-liquid or e-juice -- contain propylene glycol, glycerine, nicotine and flavorings.
Since e-cigarettes came on the market in 2004, there has been much debate on their safety and health effects on users. Concerns regarding e-cigarettes prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to tighten regulations on e-cigarettes in 2016.
"Some people use e-cigarettes heavily because they think there is no harm," Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher at UConn's chemistry department, said in a press release. "We wanted to see exactly what might be happening to DNA, and we had the resources in our lab to do that."
The team at UConn created a low-cost 3D-printed electro-optical screening device that quickly detects carcinogenic chemicals that may cause DNA damage from e-cigarette vapor. Cellular mutations caused by DNA damage can cause cancer.
Using the device, researchers found e-cigarettes containing a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered tobacco cigarettes in causing DNA damage.
The study also found that the vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes can cause as much DNA damage as filtered cigarettes due to the chemical additives found in e-cigarette vapors.
According to Kadimisetty, the amount of DNA damage caused by e-cigarettes depends on the amount of vapor a person inhales, other additives present and whether nicotine or non-nicotine liquid is used.
Researchers used the device, which converts chemicals into their metabolites to replicate what happens in the human body, to test the safety of e-cigarettes.
"What we developed is very cheap to make, efficient, and can be used by almost anyone," James Rusling, chemistry professor at UConn, said.
Researchers found that potential DNA damage from e-cigarettes increased with the number of puffs people took.
The study was published recently in ACS Sensors.