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 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 young adults will test 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 recently available detailed study well over 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds has found that young adults who experiment with e-cigarettes are generally people who already smoke cigarettes, and even then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. Not only that, but smoking rates among younger people in the UK remain declining. Studies conducted to date 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 try out e-cigarettes are going to be different from those that don’t in lots of alternative methods – maybe they’re just more keen to adopt risks, which will also increase the likelihood that they’d try out cigarettes too, whether or not they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you will find a small minority of young adults who do begin to use e-cigarettes without previously being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence this then increases the potential risk of them becoming Electronic Cigarette Reviews. 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 end in the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the general public health community, with researchers who may have the normal goal of decreasing the amounts of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides from the debate. This can be concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices the same findings are used by each side to back up and criticise e-cigarettes. And all this disagreement is playing in the media, meaning an unclear picture of what we realize (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes has been portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and those that have not made an effort to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no point in switching, as e-cigarettes may be just like harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this could be that it makes it harder to do the very research required to elucidate longer-term outcomes of e-cigarettes. Which is one thing we’re experiencing since we try and recruit for our 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 demonstrated that smokers have a distinct methylation profile, when compared with non-smokers, and it’s likely that these modifications in methylation could be connected to the increased risk of harm from smoking – as an example cancer risk. Even when the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they may be a marker of this. We want to compare the patterns observed 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 needing to watch for time for you to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the start of chronic illnesses.
Portion of the difficulty using this is the fact we know that smokers and ex-smokers have a distinct methylation pattern, so we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which means we need to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only rarely) smoked. And also this is proving challenging for 2 reasons. Firstly, as borne out by the recent research, it’s very rare for people who’ve never smoked cigarettes to take up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to an electronic cigarette habit.
But additionally, an unexpected problem continues to be the unwillingness of some inside the vaping community to aid us recruit. And they’re put off due to fears that whatever we find, the outcomes will be utilized to paint a poor picture of vaping, and vapers, by individuals with an agenda to push. I don’t want to downplay the extreme helpfulness of lots of kbajyo inside the vaping community in aiding us to recruit – thank you, you understand what you are about. But I was really disheartened to hear that for a few, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the stage where they’re opting out of the research entirely. And after speaking to people directly relating to this, it’s difficult to criticize their reasoning. We have also learned that several e-cigarette retailers were resistant against placing posters hoping to recruit people who’d never smoked, because they didn’t want to be seen to become promoting electronic cigarette utilization in people who’d never smoked, which is again completely understandable and really should be applauded.
What can we do about this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of research is conducted, so we get clearer information about e-cigarettes capability to act as a smoking cessation tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. For the time being, I hope that vapers continue to agree to participate in research so that we can fully explore the potential for these devices, specifically those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they might be crucial to helping us comprehend the impact of vaping, in comparison with smoking.