Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have a viewpoint about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and those who are will almost without fail sing the praises of the device that finally helped them give up smoking. But often people who’ve never tried e-cigarettes will focus on the potential risks from using them, and in particular whether they’re likely to reintroduce smoking to a young generation who have been steadily shunning it in larger and larger numbers over recent decades. A specific fear is that young people will experiment with e-cigarettes and that this will be a gateway in to smoking, as well as fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A newly released detailed study of over 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds finds that young adults who test out e-cigarettes are generally those that already smoke cigarettes, and even then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. In addition to that, but smoking rates among young people throughout the uk are still declining. Studies conducted currently investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping leads to smoking have tended to consider whether having ever tried an electronic cigarette predicts later smoking. But young people who try out e-cigarettes will be distinct from those that don’t in lots of other ways – maybe they’re just more keen to consider risks, which may also increase the likelihood that they’d test out cigarettes too, regardless of whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you can find a small minority of younger people who do begin to use e-cigarettes without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the potential risk of them becoming Electronic Cigarette Review. Add to this reports from Public Health England which have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you will think that could be the conclusion in the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the public health community, with researchers that have the normal aim of lowering the degrees of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides from the debate. This is concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices the identical findings are being used by both sides to support and criticise e-cigarettes. And all of this disagreement is playing in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the items we realize (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes is being portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and those that have not even tried to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no part of switching, as e-cigarettes might be just like harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this may be that it makes it harder to accomplish the research required to elucidate longer-term effects of e-cigarettes. And also this is something we’re experiencing as we try and recruit for the current study. We have been performing a research project funded by CRUK, where we’re collecting saliva samples from smokers, vapers and non-smokers. We’re checking out DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been proven that smokers use a distinct methylation profile, when compared with non-smokers, and it’s likely that these changes in methylation could be linked to the increased probability of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Whether or not the methylation changes don’t make the increased risk, they may be a marker from it. We wish to compare the patterns observed in smokers and non-smokers with those of electronic cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in the long-term impact of vaping, without having to wait around for time and energy to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the start of chronic illnesses.
Part of the difficulty using this is the fact that we understand that smokers and ex-smokers have a distinct methylation pattern, and we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, meaning we must recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only very rarely) smoked. And this is proving challenging for two reasons. Firstly, as borne out from the recent research, it’s unusual for individuals who’ve never smoked cigarettes to take up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to an e-cigarette habit.
But on top of that, an unexpected problem has become the unwillingness of some within the vaping community to help us recruit. And they’re put off as a result of fears that whatever we discover, the results will be used to paint a poor picture of vaping, and vapers, by people who have an agenda to push. I don’t want to downplay the extreme helpfulness of lots of kbajyo in the vaping community in assisting us to recruit – thank you, you already know who you are. But I was disheartened to know that for some, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the point where they’re opting out from the research entirely. And after talking to people directly concerning this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning. We have now also learned that a number of electronic cigarette retailers were immune to placing posters looking to recruit people who’d never smoked, since they didn’t want to be seen to become promoting electronic cigarette use within people who’d never smoked, that is again completely understandable and really should be applauded.
What can perform relating to this? I hope that as more scientific studies are conducted, and that we get clearer information on e-cigarettes ability to serve as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, Hopefully vapers still agree to participate in research so we can fully explore the potential for these units, specifically those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they might be essential to helping us be aware of the impact of vaping, in comparison with smoking.