But while these e-cigarettes contain potentially toxic substances, including volatile organic compounds and metals, much remains unknown their long-term effects on human health. To gain insight into how e-cigarettes affect the oral microbiome, Ganesan et al. recruited 123 otherwise healthy individuals, including 25 smokers, 25 nonsmokers, 20 e-cigarette users, 25 former smokers currently using e-cigarettes, and 28 smokers who also use e-cigarettes.
They created a catalog of bacterial genes in the microbial communities of e-cigarette users based on plaque samples collected from their teeth, finding that variations arose based on the duration of e-cigarette use, but were not tied to variations in the concentration of nicotine or the type of flavoring.
The researchers also observed that while both smoking and e-cigarette use cause inflammation, they do so through different molecular pathways. “I am hoping this research will drive some level of policymaking about the harm we are seeing,” said Purnima Kumar, a coauthor of the study, in an interview, challenging the popular perception that e-cigarettes provide a safer alternative to smoking.
“If we can see changes in people who are otherwise healthy and have nothing wrong with them, then we should start seriously considering why would you put their lives and their wellbeing at risk.”