When I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and people who are 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 very likely to reintroduce smoking to a young generation who have been steadily shunning it in bigger numbers over recent decades. A specific fear is that young people will test out e-cigarettes and that this is a gateway in to smoking, in addition to fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A recent detailed study of over 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds found that younger people who test out 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 young people in the UK are still declining. Studies conducted currently investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping leads to smoking have tended to check out whether having ever tried an electronic cigarette predicts later smoking. But young adults who test out e-cigarettes are going to be distinct from those that don’t in lots of alternative methods – maybe they’re just more keen to consider risks, which may also boost 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 younger people who do begin to use best e cig vapor without previously being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that the then increases the 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 will think that might be the end in the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the public health community, with researchers that have the most popular purpose of reducing the degrees of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides in the debate. This really is concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices the identical findings are 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 the items we know (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes has been portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and people who have not yet attempted to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no reason for switching, as e-cigarettes might be equally as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected consequence of this might be which it causes it to be harder to do the particular research necessary to elucidate longer-term outcomes of e-cigarettes. And also this is something we’re experiencing while we try and recruit for our current study. We are conducting a research project funded by CRUK, where we’re collecting saliva samples from smokers, vapers and non-smokers. We’re checking out DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been shown that smokers use a distinct methylation profile, when compared with non-smokers, and it’s possible that these changes in methylation might be connected to the increased chance of harm from smoking – for example cancer risk. Even if the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they may be a marker of this. We would like to compare the patterns noticed in smokers and non-smokers with those of e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in the long term impact of vaping, without having to wait around for time for you to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly as compared to the start of chronic illnesses.
Portion of the difficulty using this is the fact we know that smokers and ex-smokers use a distinct methylation pattern, and we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which suggests we must recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only hardly ever) smoked. And also this is proving challenging for two reasons. Firstly, as borne out by the recent research, it’s very rare for people who’ve never smoked cigarettes to consider up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily result in an e-cigarette habit.
But additionally, an unexpected problem has become the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to assist us recruit. And they’re delay due to fears that whatever we find, the outcomes will be used to paint a poor picture of vaping, and vapers, by people with an agenda to push. I don’t wish to downplay the extreme helpfulness of lots of people within the vaping community in assisting us to recruit – thank you, you understand who you really are. But I really 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 to people directly concerning this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning. We now have also learned that several electronic cigarette retailers were resistant against setting up posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, since they didn’t want to be seen to be promoting e-cigarette use within people who’d never smoked, which can be again completely understandable and should be applauded.
What can perform relating to this? Hopefully as more research is conducted, and that we get clearer information about e-cigarettes capacity to work as a smoking cessation tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, I hope that vapers carry on and agree to take part in research therefore we can fully explore the potential of these devices, specifically those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they might be important to helping us comprehend the impact of vaping, when compared with smoking.