Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion 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 quit 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 particular fear is that young people will test out e-cigarettes and that this will be a gateway in to smoking, along with fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A newly released detailed study of more than 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds has found that young people who experiment with e-cigarettes are usually people who already smoke cigarettes, as well as then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. Not only that, but smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to be declining. Studies conducted to date investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping results in smoking have tended to look at whether having ever tried an electronic cigarette predicts later smoking. But young people who test out e-cigarettes are going to be distinct from those that don’t in a lot of different ways – maybe they’re just more keen to take risks, which would also raise the likelihood that they’d experiment with cigarettes too, regardless of whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although there are a small minority of young adults who do commence to use e-cigarettes without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the risk of them becoming E-Cig Reviews. Add to this reports from Public Health England which have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you might think that could be the final in the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided people health community, with researchers who have the normal aim of lowering the amounts 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 either side to aid and criticise e-cigarettes. And all sorts of this disagreement is playing outside in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the things we understand (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes is being 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 may be just like harmful as smoking.
An unexpected consequence of this might be which it can make it harder to perform the research necessary to elucidate longer-term results of e-cigarettes. And this is something we’re experiencing while we try and recruit for the current study. We are 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 use a distinct methylation profile, compared to non-smokers, and it’s probable that these modifications in methylation could be connected to the increased risk of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Even when the methylation changes don’t cause the increased risk, they could be a marker from it. We would like to compare the patterns noticed in smokers and non-smokers with the ones from e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight into the long term impact of vaping, without having to watch for time for you to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly than the onset of chronic illnesses.
Area of the difficulty with this is that we understand that smokers and ex-smokers have a distinct methylation pattern, and that we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, meaning we have to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only rarely) smoked. And also this is proving challenging for 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 result in an electronic cigarette habit.
But in addition to that, an unexpected problem has become the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to aid us recruit. And they’re delay as a result of fears that whatever we discover, the results will be utilized to paint a negative picture of vaping, and vapers, by people with an agenda to push. I don’t want to downplay the extreme helpfulness of a lot of kbajyo in the vaping community in assisting us to recruit – thanks a lot, you understand who you are. But I was really disheartened to learn that for a few, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the stage where they’re opting from the research entirely. And after talking with people directly relating to this, it’s tough to criticize their reasoning. We have now also found that a number of e-cigarette retailers were resistant against putting up posters looking to recruit people who’d never smoked, because they didn’t desire to be seen to become promoting e-cigarette use in people who’d never smoked, which can be again completely understandable and really should be applauded.
Exactly what can we do about this? Hopefully as more research is conducted, and we get clearer information about e-cigarettes capability to act as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, I hope that vapers continue to agree to participate in research so we can fully explore the chance of these products, particularly those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they could be important to helping us understand the impact of vaping, as compared to smoking.