A new study that analyzed the levels of dangerous toxins and carcinogens in the bodies of smokers, e-cigarette users and dual-users has found that vaping seems to be much safer than smoking. Moreover, it seems that smokers who switch to electronic cigarettes completely cut their intake of toxins as much as those who quit smoking using traditional nicotine replacement therapies, like nicotine gum, patches or lozenges.
The study, funded by Cancer Research UK and conducted by researchers at University College London, analyzed the saliva and urine of of long-term e-cigarette users, smokers and dual-users – people who use both electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes – measuring their exposure to a number of dangerous toxins and carcinogens. The study followed 181 smokers and former smokers divided into five groups – ex-smokers who switched to vaping or another means of nicotine delivery (patches, gum, etc.) at least six months earlier, current smokers who smoked tobacco exclusively, and current smokers who also use electronic cigarettes or other means of nicotine delivery (dual-users).
The analysis of collected samples showed that the levels of nicotine and nicotine byproducts were about the same for all groups, but what differed considerable were the amounts of toxins and known carcinogens. Participants who used electronic cigarettes exclusively or relied on nicotine replacement therapies had much lower levels of certain carcinogens in their bodies, compared to smokers.
“Our study adds to existing evidence showing that e-cigarettes and NRT are far safer than smoking, and suggests that there is a very low risk associated with their long-term use,” said Dr. Lion Shahab, a specialist in epidemiology and public health at University College London, and lead author of the study. “Our results also suggest that while e-cigarettes are not only safer, the amount of nicotine they provide is not noticeably different to conventional cigarettes. This can help people to stop smoking altogether by dealing with their cravings in a safer way.”
The research, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that e-cigarettes users had 97.5 per cent lower levels of a chemical called NNK (icotine-derived nitrosamine ketone) than smokers, 97.1 per cent lower level of acrylonitrile and 89 per cent lower levels of butadiene. Other substances, like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including highly carcinogenic acrylamide and cyanide-releasing acrylonitrile, were also significantly less present in samples collected from e-cigarette users.
Interestingly, users of nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine gum and patches, had significant reductions for these chemicals, but their levels were not as low as those of vapers.
However, the study also showed that in dual-users, people who also smoked and used other nicotine-delivery methods, the reduction of toxins was only of about 20%, on average, showing that a complete switch is necessary to considerably lower exposure to dangerous chemicals associated with smoking.
“Around a third of tobacco-caused deaths are due to cancer, so we want to see many more of the UK’s 10 million smokers break their addiction. Understanding and communicating the benefits of nicotine replacements, such as e-cigarettes, is an important step towards reducing the number of tobacco-related deaths here in the UK,” said Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK. “This study adds to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are a much safer alternative to tobacco, and suggests the long term effects of these products will be minimal.”
While it’s true that more research on the risks and benefits of e-cigarette use is necessary, this study contributes to the growing body of evidence that electronic cigarettes are indeed a safer alternative to smoking, and the reactions of several scientists and public health experts confirms this.
“We still need more studies on the long term safety of electronic cigarettes, but this study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting electronic cigarettes are considerably safer than smoking regular cigarettes, as is using NRT long term,” said Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, senior health behaviours researcher at Oxford University. “Cigarettes are uniquely deadly and smokers who switch to electronic cigarettes or long-term use of NRT should remember that the harm from cigarettes comes from the tar, and not the nicotine.”
“The best thing a smoker can do, for themselves and those around them, is to quit now, completely and forever. E-cigarettes are the most popular quitting method in England and local stop smoking services are the most effective way to give up, with those who combine the two having some of the highest success rates,” said Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and well-being at Public Health England.
Professor Robert West, senior author of this study, expressed his frustration regarding the amount of publicity studies that highlight the danger of e-cigarettes are getting in the media these days, when scientific evidence shows a completely different reality. Surveys show that two thirds of smokers wrongly believe that electronic cigarettes are as dangerous as smoking. Hopefully, studies like this will change that.