Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always come with an opinion about them. Many will be vapers themselves, and people who are almost without fail sing the praises of the device that finally helped them give up smoking. But often people who’ve never tried e-cigarettes will focus on the potential risks from using them, especially whether they’re prone 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, along with fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A recent detailed study of more than 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds has found that young adults who experiment with e-cigarettes are usually those who already smoke cigarettes, and also then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. In addition to that, but smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to be declining. Studies conducted to date investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping leads to smoking have tended to look at whether having ever tried an e-cigarette predicts later smoking. But young people who test out e-cigarettes will probably be distinct from those that don’t in plenty of different ways – maybe they’re just more keen to adopt risks, which may also raise the likelihood that they’d experiment with cigarettes too, regardless of whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you can find a small minority of young people who do commence to use top rated electronic cigarette without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the potential risk of them becoming cigarette smokers. Enhance this reports from Public Health England which have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you might think that might be the end from the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided people health community, with researchers who may have the normal aim of decreasing the amounts of smoking and smoking-related harm suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides of the debate. This is concerning, and partly because in a relative dearth of research on the devices exactly the same findings are employed by both sides to support and criticise e-cigarettes. And all of this disagreement is playing out in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the things we realize (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes is being 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 just as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this could be which it makes it harder to perform the particular research needed to elucidate longer-term effects of e-cigarettes. Which is something we’re experiencing since we attempt to recruit for your current study. We have been conducting 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 have a distinct methylation profile, in comparison to non-smokers, and it’s likely that these modifications in methylation might be linked to the increased risk of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Even when the methylation changes don’t cause the increased risk, they could be a marker of this. We want to compare the patterns seen in smokers and non-smokers with those of electronic cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in to the long-term impact of vaping, without having to watch for time and energy to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the start of chronic illnesses.
Portion of the difficulty with this is that we realize that smokers and ex-smokers use a distinct methylation pattern, and we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which suggests we need to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only very rarely) smoked. And this is proving challenging for 2 reasons. Firstly, as borne out through the recent research, it’s unusual for folks who’ve never smoked cigarettes to take up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to an e-cigarette habit.
But on top of that, an unexpected problem has been the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to assist us recruit. And they’re postpone due to 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 wish to downplay the extreme helpfulness of lots of people in the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks a lot, you understand what you are about. Having Said That I really was disheartened to know that for many, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the stage where they’re opting from the research entirely. And after talking to people directly relating to this, it’s tough to criticize their reasoning. We now have also learned that a number of electronic cigarette retailers were resistant to putting up posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, because they didn’t wish to be seen to become promoting e-cigarette use within people who’d never smoked, that is again completely understandable and must be applauded.
So what can we do about this? Hopefully as more scientific studies are conducted, so we get clearer info on e-cigarettes capability to work as a smoking cessation tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. Until then, I hope that vapers continue to agree to participate in research therefore we can fully explore the chance of these units, specifically those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they might be essential to helping us comprehend the impact of vaping, in comparison with smoking.