Background: The use of electronic cigarettes (ECs) has increased drastically over the past five years, primarily as an alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, the adverse effects of acute and long-term use of ECs on the microbiota have not been explored. In this pilot study, we sought to determine if ECs or tobacco smoking alter the oral and gut microbiota in comparison to non-smoking controls.
Methods: We examined a human cohort consisting of 30 individuals: 10 EC users, 10 tobacco smokers, and 10 controls. We collected cross-sectional fecal, buccal swabs, and saliva samples from each participant. All samples underwent V4 16S rRNA gene sequencing.
Results: Tobacco smoking had a significant effect on the bacterial profiles in all sample types when compared to controls, and in feces and buccal swabs when compared to EC users. The most significant associations were found in the gut, with an increased relative abundance of Prevotella (P = 0.006) and decreased Bacteroides (P = 0.036) in tobacco smokers. The Shannon diversity was also significantly reduced (P = 0.009) in fecal samples collected from tobacco smokers compared to controls. No significant difference was found in the alpha diversity, beta-diversity or taxonomic relative abundances between EC users and controls.
Discussion: From a microbial ecology perspective, the current pilot data demonstrate that the use of ECs may represent a safer alternative compared to tobacco smoking. However, validation in larger cohorts and greater understanding of the short and long-term impact of EC use on microbiota composition and function is warranted.
Keywords: Electronic cigarette; Microbiota; Smoking; Tobacco.