A group of researchers in the UK have published the results of a landmark study that compares exposure to nicotine, toxins, and carcinogens among those who smoke and those who vape. The findings from this UK study create one of the strongest arguments to date that vaping poses fewer health risks than smoking.
The Proactive UK Approach to Vaping Studies
The UK has taken the forefront of conducting studies on vaping and its usefulness as a replacement for smoking. In August 2015, Public Health England released an independent review that claimed e-cigarettes were 95% less harmful than smoking. The study also established that vaping was not providing a gateway to tobacco use among minors or enticing non-smokers to start using tobacco.
Now, UK scientists have once again advanced their theory that vaping is a safer alternative. Dr. Lion Shahab led a group of researchers in what is believed to be the first detailed study to examine long-term effects of vaping. The study was largely underwritten by Cancer Research UK.
Both of these studies should be applauded as a proactive attempt to address vaping as a beneficial alternative to smoking. Thus far, no other country has been as willing to explore vaping’s efficacy. Another issue which has roadblocked some studies in the field is the unwillingness of some scientists to accept data because they believe vaping itself is too new. Dr. Shahab’s team makes a strong argument with their study that sufficient data for a detailed analysis is present.
The Method and Purpose of the UK Study
Dr. Shahab and his team chose five different groups for analysis:
- Traditional cigarette users
- Former smokers with six months or more of only using vaping devices
- Former smokers with six months or more of only using nicotine replacement therapy
- Dual users of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes
- Dual users of nicotine replacement therapy and tobacco cigarettes
Each participant was required to have continuous participation in the group to which they were assigned for at least 17 months prior to the study.
The participants of each group were required to provide urine samples for analysis. Scientists measured the level of nicotine, tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines, and volatile organic compounds of each group. The purpose was to compare the exposure of each group to nicotine, carcinogens, and toxins.
The Results of the Study
Scientists found no clear difference in the nicotine exposure or intake of the various groups. All of them were receiving significant amounts of nicotine. It should be noted that nicotine has not been solely determined to cause cancer.
Those groups which only used vaping devices or nicotine replacement therapy revealed significantly less exposure to carcinogens, toxins and volatile organic compounds. These are the cancer-causing agents found in tobacco cigarettes. The highest concentrations of harmful compounds were found in those who only used tobacco and those groups which used tobacco in conjunction with vaporizers or NRT methods.
Of all groups tested, the group which only used e-cigarettes was found to have the lowest exposure to toxins and carcinogens. In the simplest terms, individuals who only vape are less exposed to cancer causing agents than those who smoke.
Where Does Vaping Go From Here?
The most beneficial aspect of any research study can often be that it provides an impetus for more studies. This study by Public Health England should encourage research teams in other countries, namely the United States, to pick up where PHE left off. The study could even pave the way for fully-funded clinical trials which could have the power to conclusively decide the smoking vs. vaping debate.
Many vapers and vaping advocates are eager for more research, yet it often seems that organizations such as the FDA are in no way enthusiastic about moving forward. It may be that private organizations in the United States similar to Cancer Research UK will need to take a more active role in funding studies. The UK study could be used as evidence to merit funding.
One thing is clear. Because studies like this exist, the voices of those who claim vaping is safer than smoking will not be silenced. Ultimately, those voices are going to demand a forum in which their views can be given the scientific attention they merit.