Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always come with an opinion about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and those who are 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 using them, and in particular whether they’re prone to reintroduce smoking to a young generation who have been steadily shunning it in bigger 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 recently available detailed study well over 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds has found that young people who experiment with e-cigarettes are often those that already smoke cigarettes, and even then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. Not only that, but smoking rates among younger people throughout the uk 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 e-cigarette predicts later smoking. But young people who experiment with e-cigarettes will probably be different from people who don’t in lots of other ways – maybe they’re just more keen to take risks, which would also raise 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 adults who do begin to use best electronic cigarette without previously being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the potential risk of them becoming cigarette smokers. Increase this reports from Public Health England that have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you might think that might be the end of the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the general public health community, with researchers who may have the common goal of lowering the levels of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides in the debate. This can be concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices the identical findings are being used by both sides to support and criticise e-cigarettes. And all of 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 people who have not made an effort to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no reason for switching, as e-cigarettes may be just as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this may be it can make it harder to do the research needed to elucidate longer-term effects of e-cigarettes. And also this is a thing we’re experiencing while we attempt to recruit for the 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 taking a look at DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been proven that smokers use 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. Whether or not the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they may be a marker of it. We want to compare the patterns noticed in smokers and non-smokers with the ones from electronic cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight into the long term impact of vaping, without having to watch for time to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the beginning of chronic illnesses.
Part of the difficulty with this particular is the fact that we understand that smokers and ex-smokers possess a distinct methylation pattern, and we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which means we need to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only very rarely) smoked. And also this is proving challenging for just two reasons. Firstly, as borne out through the recent research, it’s very rare for folks who’ve never smoked cigarettes to adopt up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily cause an electronic cigarette habit.
But in addition to that, an unexpected problem continues to be the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to assist us recruit. And they’re postpone as a result of fears that whatever we find, the final results will be employed to paint a negative picture of vaping, and vapers, by individuals with an agenda to push. I don’t desire to downplay the extreme helpfulness of lots of people within the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks a lot, you already know what you are about. But I was disheartened to learn that for a few, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the point where they’re opting out from the research entirely. And after talking to people directly relating to this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning. We have also discovered that a number of electronic cigarette retailers were immune to placing posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, since they didn’t wish to be seen to be promoting electronic cigarette utilization in people who’d never smoked, which can be again completely understandable and must be applauded.
What can we all do concerning this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of scientific studies are conducted, and that we get clearer information about e-cigarettes capability to work as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, Hopefully vapers carry on and agree to take part in research so we can fully explore the potential for these devices, in particular those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they could be crucial to helping us understand the impact of vaping, as compared to smoking.