Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion about them. A few will be vapers themselves, and those that are 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, especially whether they’re prone 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 adults will try out e-cigarettes and that this will be a gateway in to smoking, in addition to fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A recent detailed study well over 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds found that young adults who experiment with e-cigarettes are often people who already smoke cigarettes, and even then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. Not just that, but smoking rates among younger people in the united kingdom continue to be declining. Studies conducted to date 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 adults who experiment with e-cigarettes will probably be different from those who don’t in a lot of alternative methods – maybe they’re just more keen to take risks, which will also increase the likelihood that they’d try out cigarettes too, no matter whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you will find a small minority of young people that do begin to use best electronic cigarette without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the potential risk of them becoming cigarette smokers. Add to this reports from Public Health England that have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you will think that would be the conclusion in the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided people health community, with researchers who have the common goal of reducing the amounts of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides of the debate. This really is concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices the identical findings are used by each side to back up and criticise e-cigarettes. And all of this disagreement is playing outside in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the items we understand (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes has been 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 could be equally as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this could be which it makes it harder to do the very research necessary to elucidate longer-term effects of e-cigarettes. And this is something we’re experiencing as we attempt to recruit for our current study. Our company is conducting 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 demonstrated that smokers use a distinct methylation profile, in comparison to non-smokers, and it’s possible that these modifications in methylation may be connected to the increased risk of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Even when the methylation changes don’t make the increased risk, they could be a marker of it. We would like to compare the patterns noticed in smokers and non-smokers with those of electronic cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in the long-term impact of vaping, without needing to wait for time to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the onset of chronic illnesses.
Part of the difficulty with this particular is that we know that smokers and ex-smokers use a distinct methylation pattern, so we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which suggests we have to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only rarely) smoked. And this is proving challenging for just two reasons. Firstly, as borne out through the recent research, it’s very rare for individuals who’ve never smoked cigarettes to adopt up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily result in an electronic cigarette habit.
But in addition to that, an unexpected problem has become the unwillingness of some inside the vaping community to aid us recruit. And they’re delay as a result of fears that whatever we find, the final results will be used to paint a negative 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 people in the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks, you understand who you are. However I was disheartened to hear that for some, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the point where they’re opting out of the research entirely. And after talking with people directly relating to this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning. We have also learned that numerous electronic cigarette retailers were resistant to placing posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, since they didn’t want to be seen to get promoting electronic cigarette utilization in people who’d never smoked, which can be again completely understandable and must be applauded.
So what can perform relating to this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of research is conducted, and we get clearer information on e-cigarettes capability to serve as a smoking cessation tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. For the time being, Hopefully vapers continue to agree to participate in research therefore we can fully explore the potential of these devices, particularly those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they could be crucial to helping us comprehend the impact of vaping, as compared to smoking.