Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and people who are will almost without fail sing the praises of the device that finally helped them stop 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 certain fear is that young people will test out 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 found that younger people who try out e-cigarettes are generally those who already smoke cigarettes, and also then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. In addition to that, but smoking rates among younger people in the UK continue to be declining. Studies conducted up to now investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping leads to smoking have tended to consider whether having ever tried an e-cigarette predicts later smoking. But younger people who test out e-cigarettes will be distinct from people who don’t in plenty of different ways – maybe they’re just more keen to take risks, which will also increase the likelihood that they’d test out cigarettes too, whether or not they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you can find a small minority of young people who do begin to use e-cigarettes without previously becoming a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence this then increases the risk of them becoming Electronic Cigarette Review. Add to this reports from Public Health England that have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you might think that might be the final of the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the public health community, with researchers who have the most popular aim of reducing the amounts of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides in the debate. This really is concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices exactly the same findings are employed by both sides to aid and criticise e-cigarettes. And all of this disagreement is playing out in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the things we realize (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes will be portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and those that have not even made an effort to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no part of switching, as e-cigarettes might be just as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected consequence of this could be it causes it to be harder to accomplish the research needed to elucidate longer-term results of e-cigarettes. Which is one thing we’re experiencing as we try to recruit for the current study. Our company is performing a research project funded by CRUK, where we’re collecting saliva samples from smokers, vapers and non-smokers. We’re looking at DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been proven that smokers possess a distinct methylation profile, in comparison to non-smokers, and it’s possible that these alterations in methylation might be linked to the increased chance of harm from smoking – for example cancer risk. Whether or not the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they might be a marker from it. We would like to compare the patterns seen in smokers and non-smokers with the ones from electronic cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight into the long-term impact of vaping, without needing to watch for time and energy to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly than the start of chronic illnesses.
Part of the difficulty with this is that we understand that smokers and ex-smokers use a distinct methylation pattern, and that we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which suggests we have to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only very rarely) smoked. And also this is proving challenging for just two reasons. Firstly, as borne out by the recent research, it’s very rare for folks who’ve never smoked cigarettes to consider up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to an electronic cigarette habit.
But on top of that, an unexpected problem has been the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to aid us recruit. And they’re put off because of fears that whatever we discover, the final results will be utilized to paint a negative picture of vaping, and vapers, by people who have an agenda to push. I don’t wish to downplay the extreme helpfulness of plenty of kbajyo in the vaping community in assisting us to recruit – thank you, you know who you are. Having Said That I was disheartened to hear that for a few, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the point where they’re opting out from the research entirely. And after speaking to people directly about this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning. We have now also learned that several electronic cigarette retailers were immune to placing posters hoping to recruit people who’d never smoked, because they didn’t desire to be seen to be promoting e-cigarette utilization in people who’d never smoked, which can be again completely understandable and really should be applauded.
Exactly what can we do concerning this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of research is conducted, and we get clearer information about e-cigarettes capability to work as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. For the time being, I hope that vapers carry on and agree to participate in research therefore we can fully explore the potential of these products, particularly those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they might be essential to helping us understand the impact of vaping, when compared with smoking.