Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have a viewpoint about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and those that 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 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 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 recent detailed study well over 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds finds that younger people who experiment with e-cigarettes are usually 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 remain declining. Studies conducted up to now investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping results in smoking have tended to consider whether having ever tried an electronic cigarette predicts later smoking. But younger people who try out e-cigarettes will be distinctive from those who don’t in plenty of different ways – maybe they’re just more keen to adopt risks, which would 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 young people that do commence to use e-cigarettes without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that the then increases the potential risk of them becoming E Cig. Enhance this reports from Public Health England who 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 people health community, with researchers who have the normal aim of reducing the degrees 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 same findings are used by both sides to back up and criticise e-cigarettes. And all sorts of this disagreement is playing out in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the things we understand (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 point in switching, as e-cigarettes could be equally as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this might be that it can make it harder to perform the very research needed to elucidate longer-term effects of e-cigarettes. And also this is something we’re experiencing since we attempt to recruit for our 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 looking at DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been proven that smokers possess a distinct methylation profile, compared to non-smokers, and it’s possible that these modifications in methylation might be linked to the increased chance of harm from smoking – for example cancer risk. Even when the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they may be a marker from it. We would like to compare the patterns seen in smokers and non-smokers with those of e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight into the long term impact of vaping, without having to wait around for time to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly as compared to the start of chronic illnesses.
Part of the difficulty with this is the fact that we realize that smokers and ex-smokers use a distinct methylation pattern, so we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which suggests we have to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only hardly ever) smoked. And this is proving challenging for 2 reasons. Firstly, as borne out from the recent research, it’s unusual for folks who’ve never smoked cigarettes to adopt up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily result in an e-cigarette habit.
But in addition to that, an unexpected problem has been the unwillingness of some within the vaping community to help us recruit. And they’re put off as a result of fears that whatever we find, the outcomes will be utilized to paint a negative picture of vaping, and vapers, by people with an agenda to push. I don’t desire to downplay the extreme helpfulness of a lot of kbajyo inside the vaping community in aiding us to recruit – thanks a lot, you know who you really are. Having Said That I really was disheartened to hear that for some, 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 relating to this, it’s difficult to criticize their reasoning. We now have also learned that a number of electronic cigarette retailers were resistant to putting up posters aiming to recruit people who’d never smoked, as they didn’t wish to be seen to get promoting electronic cigarette use in people who’d never smoked, that is again completely understandable and must be applauded.
What can we do concerning this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of scientific studies are conducted, and we get clearer info on e-cigarettes ability to serve as a smoking cessation 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 potential of these products, specifically those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they may be essential to helping us understand the impact of vaping, in comparison with smoking.