The evidence so far
The evidence so far shows that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking. Up to two-thirds of long term smokers will die because of their addiction. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, which is the biggest cause of preventable death worldwide. E-cigs are a relatively new technology and so we can’t be certain about any long-term effects the devices might cause to health. They haven’t been around long enough for this to be completely worked out. But compared to smoking, the evidence so far shows they are less harmful. The popularity of e-cigs continues to grow, but figures show that most people using these devices are now ex-smokers, and people mainly use them to quit smoking or cut down. The potential these devices hold to help people stop smoking, has left some challenges. The biggest being that research looking at their safety has struggled to keep up. Many studies have shown that e-cigarettes appear to be far safer than smoking. But there’s still a big misconception that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking, and that could be stopping smokers who might benefit from switching to them. Now a new study helps put to rest these fears. And depending on how you define ‘long-term’, the findings are the most convincing evidence to date that e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking.
Tobacco is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, accounting for around 6 million deaths each year. That’s thanks to the cocktail of over 5,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, of which at least 70 may cause cancer. E-cigarettes, on the other hand, do not contain tobacco. Instead, they carry a nicotine-containing liquid which is heated into a vapour and breathed in. The nicotine satisfies the cravings associated with a smoking addiction, but doesn’t cause cancer. The fact that e-cigarettes don’t produce tobacco smoke and the countless chemicals found within it has always suggested that these devices should be safer than smoking. Early studies looking into this showed that e-cigarette liquids, and the vapour they produce, don’t contain the same level of most toxic chemicals as tobacco cigarettes. In fact, these levels have been found to be so low that Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians estimate that e-cigarettes are ‘around 95% safer than smoking’. But, until now, nobody had looked at what everyday users are actually exposed to in the real-world.
The study included a group of e-cigarette users, who had been using them for an average of around 17 months, and measured the levels of nicotine and 26 potentially harmful chemicals in their body, by looking at samples of their urine and saliva. The team compared the results to cigarette smokers, and people who both smoked and used e-cigarettes. They also looked at people who used nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which is commonly used to help people stop smoking or as a long-term alternative. Interestingly, the nicotine levels found in the samples from e-cigarette users were very similar to those who used NRT and to smokers. This suggests that people are able to satisfy their nicotine cravings through using either of these products. But the key finding came when the team looked in the samples at the levels of potentially toxic chemicals. They found that there was a remarkable difference in the levels of these substances between the different groups. In fact one chemical, called NNAL (known to cause lung cancer), was 97% lower in e-cigarette users compared to smokers. So if e-cigarettes have the same effect on the body as an established stop smoking treatment, then surely we can assume that these products are relatively ‘safe’ too. While nothing can ever be considered completely safe, we can compare it to the other things we experience in our day to day lives. This study confirms that e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking. If you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is to stop. And the most effective way to do so is through free Stop Smoking Services. So although it’s unlikely e-cigarettes will be shown to be completely harmless (nothing ever is), today’s results are a landmark moment in showing just how much safer they are than smoking.
Eric M. Bowersox