According to a new English study published in the Cancer Prevention Research journal, smokers who switch to electronic cigarettes and even dual-users significantly reduce their exposure to life-threatening pollutants like carbon monoxide and acrolein.
Researchers from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Queen Mary University of London gave electronic cigarettes to 40 participants – typically in their 40’s – who said they wanted to quit smoking and had tried to do so at least two times before. They were all offered the same type of electronic cigarette and encouraged to give up analogs completely.
Scientists lead by Dr. Hayden McRobbie measured carbon monoxide in participants’ breath one week before giving them electronic cigarettes, on the first day they started using them and again four weeks later. The same schedule was used for analyzing the participants’ urine for exposure to acrolein, a breakdown product associated with lung cancer.
At the end of the trial, the 16 smokers who had switched to electronic cigarettes completely exhibited around an 80% drop in exposure to both carbon monoxide and acrolein, while the 17 using both electronic and tobacco cigarettes had a 52 percent decline in carbon monoxide exposure and a 60 percent decline for acrolein. As the results clearly show, switching completely yields the most health benefits, but even dual users significantly lower their exposure to the two dangerous pollutants.
“This usually happens over a period of time and smokers may get some encouragement from the finding that there is some potential health benefit as soon as they start the process,” Dr. McRobbie told Reuters.
Carbon monoxide is one of the most hazardous breakdown products of tobacco combustion, decreasing the amount of oxygen carried in red blood cells while also hardening the arteries and ultimately causing heart conditions and strokes. Acrolein is present in cigarette smoke, but also in the vapor from e-cigs that use vegetable glycerin-based e-liquids, according to the study authors. It’s known that acrolein irritates tissue exposed to it and can damages or even destroy cilia – the tiny hairs that clean our lungs of bacteria and dirt, making smokers more prone to lung infections.
Because the e-cigarettes used in this study used vegetable glycerin, researchers thought it could be possible dual users might actually increase their exposure to acrolein. So the dramatic drop in acrolein levels for this category of test subject was, for the authors, the “headline finding”.
While the study yielded some very encouraging results, the authors acknowledge its limitations – the fact that it only included participants with a desire to quit smoking, making it possible that the results be different for smokers with no intention to quit, and that the e-cigarette model used during the trial might not be representative for all the hundreds of other kinds of e-cigarettes and e-liquids available on the market today.
Still, the findings do suggest that switching to electronic cigarettes may curb exposure to some of the most dangerous substances in tobacco smoke. “This study adds to the evidence that e-cigarettes are much less harmful compared to conventional cigarettes,” said Dr. Ricardo Polosa, head of the tobacco research center at the University of Catania in Italy, who was not involved in the research.