New research on the effects of smoking is capturing the internet’s attention today – a million people are discussing it and it is a top-trending subject on Facebook as of this writing.

The study in question – led by Dr. Stephanie London, the deputy chief of epidemiology at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – examined blood samples from more than 16,000 participants from six previous smoking studies. Most headline-grabbing has been the finding that smoking appears to alter the DNA in ways that can last a lifetime. WebMD summarized the findings:

London’s team found that some genetic changes remained, even 30 years after quitting smoking.

London and her colleagues zeroed in on a process called DNA methylation — genetic changes that don’t alter genes’ underlying code but can change how they’re expressed, or turned on.

Among the effects of altering an estimated 7,000 genes, or roughly one-third of the entire currently known genetic code, are things that previously had been observed, such as an increased likelihood of cancer and heart disease. And parts of the report’s findings were encouraging, notably the fact that the vast majority of smoking’s effects on DNA wear off almost entirely within five years.

However, the study also found that the effect on “19 genes, including the TIAM2 gene linked to lymphoma, lasted 30 years.”

The timing of the study is notable, given ongoing debate surrounding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent deeming regulations, which threaten to ban 99 percent of e-cigarettes and other vaping-related products.

The regulations have been strongly criticized by some public-health experts, particularly in light of another recent study indicating that nearly 70 percent of European vapers have quit smoking or reduced how frequently they smoke as a result of their e-cigarette usage. That totals an estimated 6.1 million fewer smokers in Europe, which ironically happens to be nearly the same number of people who die globally every year as a result of smoking, the single greatest preventable cause of death worldwide.

Earlier this year, the Royal College of Physicians released a report that found that:

Large-scale substitution of e-cigarettes, or other non-tobacco nicotine products, for tobacco smoking has the potential to prevent almost all the harm from smoking in society. Promoting e-cigarettes…and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible, as a substitute for smoking, is therefore likely to generate significant health gains in the UK.

Today’s report on smoking’s damage to DNA confirms, yet again, smoking’s negative effects. The FDA’s regulations give Americans dramatically fewer options in their quest to kick the habit, thereby promising to worsen the health crisis caused by smoking, not improve it.

A one-minute video primer on the FDA’s regulations is available here:


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