When I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion about them. Many will be vapers themselves, and those 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, especially whether they’re prone to reintroduce smoking to a young generation who’ve been steadily shunning it in bigger numbers over recent decades. A certain fear is that young adults will try out e-cigarettes and that this is a gateway in to smoking, as well as fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.
A newly released detailed study of more than 60,000 UK 11-16 year olds found that young adults who experiment with e-cigarettes are generally people who already smoke cigarettes, and also then experimentation mostly doesn’t translate to regular use. Not just that, but smoking rates among younger people throughout the uk are still declining. Studies conducted up to now 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 younger people who try out e-cigarettes will probably be different from those that don’t in a lot of other ways – maybe they’re just more keen to adopt risks, which may also raise the likelihood that they’d try out cigarettes too, whether or not they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although you can find a small minority of young adults that do start to use best electronic cigarette without previously as being a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the chance of them becoming cigarette smokers. Add to this reports from Public Health England who have concluded e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, and you will think that would be the end from the fear surrounding them.
But e-cigarettes have really divided the public health community, with researchers that have the normal aim of lowering the levels 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 being used by both sides 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 will be portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and those that have not attempted to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no reason for switching, as e-cigarettes might be just as harmful as smoking.
An unexpected results of this may be it causes it to be harder to accomplish the particular research necessary to elucidate longer-term outcomes of e-cigarettes. And also this is one thing we’re experiencing since we try and recruit for your 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 looking at DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been shown that smokers have a distinct methylation profile, compared to non-smokers, and it’s probable that these modifications in methylation may be connected to the increased chance of harm from smoking – for instance cancer risk. Whether or not the methylation changes don’t cause the increased risk, they might be a marker of it. We want to compare the patterns seen in smokers and non-smokers with those of e-cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in the long term impact of vaping, while not having to wait around for time for you to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly when compared to the onset of chronic illnesses.
Portion of the difficulty using this is the fact that we understand that smokers and ex-smokers possess 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. Which is proving challenging for two reasons. Firstly, as borne out from the recent research, it’s very rare for people who’ve never smoked cigarettes to take up regular vaping. Yes, maybe they’ll experiment, but that doesn’t necessarily cause an electronic cigarette habit.
But on top of that, an unexpected problem continues to be the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to assist us recruit. And they’re delay because of fears that whatever we discover, the outcomes will be employed to paint a negative picture of vaping, and vapers, by people with an agenda to push. I don’t want to downplay the extreme helpfulness of lots of people within the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks, you already know what you are about. Having Said That I really was disheartened to learn that for some, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the point where they’re opting from the research entirely. And after talking to people directly relating to this, it’s difficult to criticize their reasoning. We now have also learned that several e-cigarette retailers were resistant to putting up posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, because they didn’t desire to be seen to get promoting electronic cigarette use within people who’d never smoked, that is again completely understandable and really should be applauded.
So what can we all do relating to this? Hopefully as increasing numbers of research is conducted, and we get clearer information about e-cigarettes capacity to serve as a smoking cessation tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. For the time being, I hope that vapers still agree to take part in research therefore we can fully explore the potential of these units, in particular those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they could be crucial to helping us comprehend the impact of vaping, when compared with smoking.