When I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and those that 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, especially whether they’re likely to reintroduce smoking to a young generation who’ve been steadily shunning it in bigger numbers over recent decades. A specific 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 of more than 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds finds that young adults who try out e-cigarettes are generally those that already smoke cigarettes, as well as then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. Not only that, but smoking rates among young adults throughout the uk continue to be declining. Studies conducted up to now investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping contributes to smoking have tended to consider whether having ever tried an electronic cigarette predicts later smoking. But young people who try out e-cigarettes will probably be different from people who don’t in lots of alternative methods – maybe they’re just more keen to adopt risks, which will also raise the likelihood that they’d experiment with cigarettes too, no matter whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you can find a small minority of young adults that do begin to use top rated electronic cigarettes without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that the then increases the potential risk of them becoming cigarette smokers. Enhance this reports from Public Health England that have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you might think that could 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 common 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 used by either side to aid and criticise e-cigarettes. And all of this disagreement is playing outside in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the things we know (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes is being portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and people who have not attempted to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no point in switching, as e-cigarettes may be equally as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this could be that it makes it harder to accomplish the particular research needed to elucidate longer-term results of e-cigarettes. And this is a thing we’re experiencing while we try to recruit for the current study. We have been performing 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 have a distinct methylation profile, when compared with non-smokers, and it’s possible that these alterations in methylation might be connected to the increased probability of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Whether or not the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they might be a marker of it. We want to compare the patterns seen in smokers and non-smokers with the ones from e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight into the long term impact of vaping, while not having to wait for time to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly as compared to the onset of chronic illnesses.
Part of the difficulty with this particular is the fact we understand that smokers and ex-smokers have a distinct methylation pattern, so we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, meaning we have to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only hardly ever) smoked. Which is proving challenging for 2 reasons. Firstly, as borne out from the recent research, it’s rare for people who’ve never smoked cigarettes to take up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily result in an e-cigarette habit.
But additionally, an unexpected problem continues to be the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to aid us recruit. And they’re delay because of fears that whatever we find, the results will be employed 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 plenty of people inside the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks a lot, you understand who you are. Having Said That I was really disheartened to know that for some, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the stage where they’re opting out from the research entirely. And after talking with people directly about this, it’s tough to criticize their reasoning. We have now also discovered that a number of electronic cigarette retailers were resistant against placing posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, as they didn’t want to be seen to become promoting e-cigarette use within people who’d never smoked, that is again completely understandable and should be applauded.
Exactly what can we do about this? I hope that as increasing numbers of research is conducted, and we get clearer info on e-cigarettes capability to work as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, I hope that vapers still agree to take part in research so we can fully explore the chance of these products, specifically those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they could be crucial to helping us be aware of the impact of vaping, when compared with smoking.