E-cigarettes loaded with a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage. Writing in the journal ACS Sensors, Researchers at the University of Connecticut report that the extent of DNA damage caused by e-cigarettes depends on several factors: amount of vapor inhaled, use of nicotine vs nonnicotine liquid, presence of other additives, and other factors. 

The contents of e-cigarettes (e-liquid or e-juice) are usually made up of propylene glycol; glycerine; nicotine; and flavorings such as menthol, cherry, vanilla, or mint. The small 3-D printed device used in this study is believed to be the first of its kind capable of quickly detecting DNA damage, or genotoxicity, in environmental samples in the field. The device uses micropumps to push liquid samples across multiple microwells embedded in a small carbon chip. The microwells are preloaded with reactive human metabolic enzymes and DNA. As the samples drop into the wells, new metabolites that have the potential to cause DNA damage are formed. 

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In this study, the researchers extracted samples from e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes using an artificial inhalation technique. Cigarettes were connected to a tube that contained a cotton plug. The researchers then used a syringe at the other end of the tube to replicate inhalation. Samples came from the chemicals captured in the cotton.

The team set their test so that 20 puffs of an e-cigarette was roughly equivalent to smoking one tobacco cigarette, a ratio supported by other research. The researchers gathered samples at 20, 60, and 100 puffs. The potential DNA damage from e-cigarettes increased with the number of puffs. 


1. Kadimisetty K, Malla S, Rusling JF. Automated 3-D printed arrays to evaluate genotoxic chemistry: e-cigarettes and water samples. ACS Sens. 2017;2(5):670-678.