Comparative effects between electronic and cigarette smoke in human keratinocytes and epithelial lung cells

Toxicol In Vitro. 2014 Aug;28(5):999-1005. doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2014.04.012. Epub 2014 May 5.


Information about the harmful effects of vaping is sparse and inconsistent, therefore, since the use of electronic cigarettes (e-CIGs) has become increasingly popular as a tool to limit tobacco smoking, it is urgent to establish the toxicity of the commercial e-CIGs. Skin (HaCaT) and lung (A549) cells, the main targets of cigarette smoke (CS), were exposed to e-CIG vapor and CS using an in vitro system. The cytotoxic effect of the exposure was analyzed in both cell types by ultrastructural morphology, Trypan Blue exclusion test and LDH assay. In addition, pro-inflammatory cytokines were measured by the Bio-Plex assay. The cytotoxic components of e-CIG were restrained to the flavoring compound and, to a lesser extent, to nicotine although their effects were less harmful to that of CS. Humectants alone exhibited no cytotoxicity but induced the release of cytokines and pro-inflammatory mediators. Based on our results, we can state that exposure to e-CIG vapors results in far less toxic than exposure to CS. In fact, besides the deleterious effect of flavor and nicotine, even the humectants alone are able to evocate cytokines release. This study will hopefully promote the development of safer e-CIGs to help people quit smoking.

Keywords: Cytokines release; Cytotoxicity; Skin and lung cells; Tobacco cigarette smoke; e-CIG vapor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Flavoring Agents / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects*
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism
  • Lung / cytology
  • Nicotine / toxicity
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • Tobacco*


  • Cytokines
  • Flavoring Agents
  • Smoke
  • Nicotine