Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion 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 utilizing 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 people will test out e-cigarettes and that this will 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 finds that young adults who try out e-cigarettes are usually those who already smoke cigarettes, as well as then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. In addition to that, but smoking rates among young people throughout the uk are still declining. Studies conducted currently investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping leads to smoking have tended to look at whether having ever tried an electronic cigarette predicts later smoking. But young adults who experiment with e-cigarettes will probably be distinctive from those who don’t in plenty of other ways – maybe they’re just more keen to consider risks, which would also boost the likelihood that they’d try out cigarettes too, no matter whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you will find a small minority of young adults who do begin to use e-cigarettes without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the potential risk of them becoming E Cig. Enhance this reports from Public Health England that have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you will think that would be the end in the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided people health community, with researchers who have the most popular aim of lowering the degrees of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides from the debate. This can be concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices exactly the same findings are being used by either side to aid and criticise e-cigarettes. And all this disagreement is playing out 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 those that have not attempted to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no part of switching, as e-cigarettes may be equally as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected consequence of this could be that it causes it to be harder to perform the very research required to elucidate longer-term results of e-cigarettes. And this is a thing we’re experiencing as we try and 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, in comparison to non-smokers, and it’s probable that these alterations in methylation might be linked to the increased probability of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Even when the methylation changes don’t result in the increased risk, they could be a marker from it. We want to compare the patterns noticed in smokers and non-smokers with the ones from e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in the long-term impact of vaping, without having to wait for time for you to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the onset of chronic illnesses.
Part of the difficulty with this particular is the fact that we realize that smokers and ex-smokers possess a distinct methylation pattern, and that we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, meaning we must recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only rarely) smoked. And also this is proving challenging for just two reasons. Firstly, as borne out from the recent research, it’s very rare for folks who’ve never smoked cigarettes to consider up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily cause an e-cigarette habit.
But additionally, an unexpected problem has been the unwillingness of some inside the vaping community to help us recruit. And they’re delay due to fears that whatever we find, the outcomes will be utilized 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 kbajyo inside the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks a lot, you know what you are about. However I was really disheartened to know 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 about this, it’s difficult to criticize their reasoning. We have now also learned that a number of e-cigarette retailers were immune to putting up posters hoping to recruit people who’d never smoked, since they didn’t desire to be seen to become promoting e-cigarette use within people who’d never smoked, which is again completely understandable and must be applauded.
What can we do about this? I hope that as increasing numbers of research is conducted, and we get clearer information on e-cigarettes capability to act as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. For the time being, I hope that vapers continue to agree to participate in research therefore we can fully explore the potential for these units, in particular those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they may be essential to helping us be aware of the impact of vaping, in comparison with smoking.