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Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always come with an opinion about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and those 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 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 is 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 people who test out e-cigarettes are often people who 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 are still declining. Studies conducted to date investigating the gateway hypothesis that vaping results in smoking have tended to consider whether having ever tried an e-cigarette predicts later smoking. But young people who experiment with e-cigarettes will be different from people who don’t in lots of other ways – maybe they’re just more keen to adopt risks, which would also raise the likelihood that they’d experiment with cigarettes too, no matter whether they’d used e-cigarettes.
Although there are a small minority of young people that do start to use best e cig vapor without previously becoming a smoker, as yet there’s little evidence that this then increases the chance 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 public health community, with researchers that have the common goal of reducing the degrees 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 support and criticise e-cigarettes. And all this disagreement is playing outside in the media, meaning an unclear picture of the items we know (and don’t know) about e-cigarettes will be portrayed, with vapers feeling persecuted and people who have not yet made an effort to quit mistakenly believing that there’s no reason for 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 research needed to elucidate longer-term outcomes of e-cigarettes. And also this is one thing we’re experiencing since we try to recruit for your current study. We are performing a research project funded by CRUK, where we’re collecting saliva samples from smokers, vapers and non-smokers. We’re taking a look at DNA methylation, a biological marker that influences gene expression. It’s been shown that smokers possess a distinct methylation profile, compared to non-smokers, and it’s likely that these alterations in methylation might be connected to the increased probability of harm from smoking – for example cancer risk. Whether or not the methylation changes don’t cause the increased risk, they could be a marker from it. We want to compare the patterns observed in smokers and non-smokers with those of electronic cigarette users, potentially giving us some insight in the long-term impact of vaping, without needing to wait around for time to elapse. Methylation changes happen relatively quickly as compared to the onset of chronic illnesses.
Portion of the difficulty with this particular is the fact we realize that smokers and ex-smokers have a distinct methylation pattern, so we don’t want this clouding any pattern from vaping, which means we have to recruit vapers who’ve never (or certainly only very rarely) smoked. And also this is proving challenging for just two reasons. Firstly, as borne out through the recent research, it’s very rare 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 electronic cigarette habit.
But on top of that, an unexpected problem continues to be the unwillingness of some in the vaping community to help us recruit. And they’re put off due to fears that whatever we discover, the final results will be utilized 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 inside the vaping community in helping us to recruit – thanks, you understand what you are about. Having Said That I was really disheartened to hear that for some, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the point where they’re opting out from the research entirely. And after speaking to people directly about this, it’s tough to criticize their reasoning. We have also found that a number of electronic cigarette retailers were resistant to placing posters aiming cwctdr recruit people who’d never smoked, as they didn’t wish to be seen to get promoting e-cigarette use in people who’d never smoked, which can be again completely understandable and must be applauded.
Exactly what can we all do concerning this? I hope that as more scientific studies are conducted, and that we get clearer information about e-cigarettes capacity to serve as a quitting smoking tool, the disagreement around them will disappear. For the time being, I hope that vapers carry on and agree to take part in research so we can fully explore the chance of these units, particularly those rare “unicorns” who vape but have never smoked, as they could be essential to helping us comprehend the impact of vaping, as compared to smoking.