Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always come with an opinion about them. A few will be vapers themselves, and people who 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, 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 younger people will test out e-cigarettes and that this can be a gateway in to smoking, along with fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A recent detailed study of more than 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds has found that younger people who try out 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 young people in the UK remain declining. Studies conducted to date investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping results in smoking have tended to check out whether having ever tried an e-cigarette predicts later smoking. But young people who try out e-cigarettes will be different from people who don’t in plenty of different ways – maybe they’re just more keen to consider risks, which may also raise the likelihood that they’d test out cigarettes too, no matter whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you can find a small minority of younger people who do start to use top rated electronic cigarette without previously being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence this then increases the potential risk of them becoming cigarette smokers. Enhance this reports from Public Health England which have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you will think that would be the final in the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the general public health community, with researchers that have the common goal of reducing the degrees of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides of the debate. This can be concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices the same findings are used by both sides to back up and criticise e-cigarettes. And all sorts of this disagreement is playing outside in the media, meaning an unclear picture of what we understand (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes is being portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and people who have not yet tried to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no part of switching, as e-cigarettes could be just as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected consequence of this could be that it can make it harder to do the research required to elucidate longer-term effects of e-cigarettes. And also this is something we’re experiencing as we attempt to 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 shown that smokers possess a distinct methylation profile, compared to non-smokers, and it’s likely that these modifications in methylation could be connected to the increased risk of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Even if the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they may be a marker of it. We want to compare the patterns observed in smokers and non-smokers with those of e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in the long-term impact of vaping, without needing to wait for time and energy to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the beginning of chronic illnesses.
Portion of the difficulty with this particular is the fact 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 means we must recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only hardly ever) smoked. Which is proving challenging for 2 reasons. Firstly, as borne out by the recent research, it’s rare for people who’ve never smoked cigarettes to consider up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to an e-cigarette habit.
But additionally, an unexpected problem continues to be the unwillingness of some within the vaping community to aid us recruit. And they’re put off as a result of fears that whatever we find, the results will be used to paint a poor picture of vaping, and vapers, by people with an agenda to push. I don’t desire to downplay the extreme helpfulness of plenty of people in the vaping community in assisting us to recruit – thanks a lot, you understand who you really are. Having Said That I was really disheartened to learn 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 talking with people directly about this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning. We have now also discovered that a number of e-cigarette retailers were resistant against placing posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, because they didn’t wish to be seen to be promoting electronic cigarette utilization in people who’d never smoked, which is again completely understandable and really should be applauded.
Exactly what can we all do about this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of scientific studies are conducted, so we get clearer information on e-cigarettes capability to work as a smoking cessation tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, Hopefully vapers continue to agree to participate in research therefore we can fully explore the potential of these products, in particular 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.