Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have a viewpoint about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and those that 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 utilizing 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 particular fear is that younger people will try out e-cigarettes and that this will be a gateway in to smoking, along with fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A recently available detailed study of over 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds finds that young people who experiment with e-cigarettes are often those who already smoke cigarettes, as well as then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. Not only that, but smoking rates among young adults in the UK remain declining. Studies conducted to date investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping contributes to smoking have tended to check out whether having ever tried an e-cigarette predicts later smoking. But young adults who test out e-cigarettes will probably be different from those that don’t in a lot of different ways – maybe they’re just more keen to consider risks, which may also increase the likelihood that they’d experiment with cigarettes too, whether or not they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you will find a small minority of young people who do start to use e-cigarettes without previously being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the potential risk of them becoming E-Cig Reviews. Add to this reports from Public Health England who have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you will think that might be the final from the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the public health community, with researchers that have the most popular goal of reducing the amounts of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides from the debate. This really is concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices the identical findings are employed by each side to back up and criticise e-cigarettes. And all this disagreement is playing outside in the media, meaning an unclear picture of what we know (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes is being portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and those that have not yet tried to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no point in switching, as e-cigarettes may be equally as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected consequence of this may be it makes it harder to perform the very research needed to elucidate longer-term effects of e-cigarettes. Which is a thing we’re experiencing since we try and recruit for our 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 taking a look at DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been shown that smokers possess a distinct methylation profile, in comparison to non-smokers, and it’s probable that these alterations in methylation could be connected to the increased risk of harm from smoking – for example cancer risk. Whether or not the methylation changes don’t cause the increased risk, they may be a marker of this. We would like to compare the patterns noticed in smokers and non-smokers with those of e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in to the long term impact of vaping, without having to wait around for time and energy to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly as compared to the beginning of chronic illnesses.
Area of the difficulty with this particular is that we realize that smokers and ex-smokers possess a distinct methylation pattern, and we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which means we have to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only hardly ever) smoked. And this is proving challenging for 2 reasons. Firstly, as borne out from the recent research, it’s very rare for people who’ve never smoked cigarettes to consider up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily result in an e-cigarette habit.
But in addition to that, an unexpected problem has become the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to help us recruit. And they’re postpone due to fears that whatever we find, the final results will be employed to paint a poor picture of vaping, and vapers, by individuals with an agenda to push. I don’t wish to downplay the extreme helpfulness of a lot of kbajyo in the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks a lot, you understand who you really are. But I was disheartened to learn that for many, 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 relating to this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning. We now have also discovered that several electronic cigarette retailers were resistant to setting up posters hoping to recruit people who’d never smoked, as they didn’t want to be seen to be promoting electronic cigarette utilization in people who’d never smoked, which can be again completely understandable and should be applauded.
What can we all do about this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of scientific studies are conducted, and we get clearer information on e-cigarettes ability to serve as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, I hope that vapers carry on and agree to take part in research so we can fully explore the potential of these devices, particularly those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they might be important to helping us comprehend the impact of vaping, as compared to smoking.