Mounting evidence against flavored e-cigarettes

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As controversy over flavored e-cigarettes swirls, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers have co-authored a study cataloguing risks including inflammation and genetic damage to long-term users of flavored vaping pods.

Published in December by the journal Scientific Reports, the paper details investigations conducted by URMC Department of Environmental Medicine researcher Irfan Rahman. 

Thivanka Muthumalage and Thomas Lamb, also of the URMC environmental medicine department, and SUNY Brockport Laboratory Coordinator Michelle Friedman are co-authors equally credited with the research.

Vaping pods with innocuous-sounding flavors like mango, cucumber and mint in fact coat lung cells in chemicals deemed harmful to human health including volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons, putting users at risk for developing lung conditions including cancer, Rahman says. 

In an interview with the Rochester Beacon last November, Rahman said that he believes that long-term vaping use would be virtually certain to cause serious harm. 

In the study, the URMC research team exposed human lung cells to vapor from flavored pods and found that tissue samples sustained acute injury as well as DNA damage that could lead to cancer. Using mass spectrometry, they identified some 40 chemicals present in various combinations produced by seven different flavored pods sold by Juul Laboratories Inc., the largest U.S. e-cigarette producer. 

Under pressure from federal authorities, who in January instituted a partial ban on flavored vaping pods in the wake of a rash of acute injuries and deaths suffered by otherwise healthy young vapers last year, Juul has recently withdrawn some of its flavored pods from the market.  

A ban on flavored pod sales in New York has been sidelined by state courts. Enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year, the New York ban was challenged by a vape-shop industry group. 

In October, an appeals court agreed to halt implementation of the ban and sent the case back to state Supreme Court for further review. On Jan. 10, an acting state Supreme Court justice in Rensselaer County found in the industry group’s favor, ruling that Cuomo overstepped executive-branch powers. State lawmakers could pass legislation banning sales of flavored pods but have not yet done so.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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