Nicotine Not As Safe As Once Thought

Jun 16, 2014

The recent trend toward e-cigarettes as a way to avoid the dangers of smoking may not be as safe as previously thought.  Scientists at Virginia Tech now say nicotine; even in non-smoke-able forms can,  cause cancer.

There’s now an entire industry based on smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine gums, lozenges and the newest delivery devices, e- cigarettes.  But according to Geneticist, Skip Garner, nicotine itself, once thought to be merely addictive is also carcinogenic.

“Previous tests measure and classify whether nicotine is a carcinogen or mutagen were conducted with old technology, sponsored by tobacco companies.  What we’ve done is, we made a direct measurement of the genome using the latest technology of next gen sequencing and we could directly measure the number of mutations that exposure to nicotine caused.”

Garner and his team at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech found nicotine causes thousands of mutations in cells, --- a known precursor to cancer.  The conclusion, nicotine alone can cause cancer even without the other chemicals in conventional cigarettes.  He says alternative nicotine delivery systems actually make the situation worse.

 “When you smoke cigarettes the actual dose is fairly low because it has to spread out through your entire body, but when you’re administering nicotine through a patch or you’re chewing it with gum or you’re inhaling it with e-cigarettes, your mouth and your skin get very high doses of nicotine.”

In the study, researchers used doses similar to those in nicotine patches and gum.  Companies, which manufacture them, declined immediate comment. Glaxo Smith Kline, maker of Nicorrette gum and lozenges said in a statement, there is overwhelming evidence that nicotine replacement therapy is safe and that it will review the study before commenting further.

Professor Garner says, the Food and Drug Administration, which recently approved such devices for long-term use, should reconsider its position in light of his findings.

 “Indeed, it’s my opinion that the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency and others should rethink how they would actually test and assign whether a chemical is a carcinogen or mutagen because this new technology would allow you to take every chemical that’s out there, expose it healthy cells and directly measure the level of mutation and figure out how dangerous it is.”

The findings on the carcinogenic affects of nicotine were published in the journal Oncotarget. 

Virginia Tech Researcher Jasmin Bavarva
Credit Virginia Tech