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Vaping is 99% less carcinogenic than smoking, says research

Social media is filled with disinformation about vaping, including substantially false claims that e-cigs are a gateway to smoking, cause seizures, and increase the chances of incurring pneumonia. Fortunately, smokers looking to quit know very well that the real life-threatening danger facing them every day is that combustible tobacco products cause multiple forms of cancer and smoking-related disease.  For those who may still be confused about the safety of vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool, a recent cross-sectional study conducted by scientists from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, UK, has determined that vaping is up to 99 percent less carcinogenic than smoking.

The coauthors readily admit that the results will vary depending on the vaping habits and prefernces of the user, but when electronic cigarettes are utilized with “optimal combinations of device settings, liquid formulation and vaping behavior,” the results in substantially reduced carcinogen intake are instantaneous.

Overview of the St. Andrews vaping study

The research project led by Dr. William E Stephens is entitled Comparing the cancer potencies of emissions from vapourised nicotine products including e-cigarettes with those of tobacco smoke (BMJ Tobacco Control). From the beginning, the researchers’ primary objective was to compare the toxicity levels of e-cigarettes, combustible tobacco, and the newer heat-not-burn technologies, also referred to as HNB devices. 

While vaping involves the heating of e-liquids that may or may not contain nicotine but are still 100% tobacco-free, HNB technologies utilize a similar mechanism to “heat” rather than “burn” the real tobacco leaves.  Scientists have known for decades that the burning of tobacco leaves through mass-produced tobacco cigarettes results in smoke that is filled with an estimated 7000 chemicals, hundreds of carcinogens, and the deadly tar that coats the lungs and respiratory system.  Since vaping and perhaps HNB technologies do not involve the burning of tobacco, the scientists assumed that their related carcinogenic levels would be dramatically lower in comparison.

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To prove their theory, they would need to analyze and compare the smoke and vapor produced from a variety of vapor, HNB, and tobacco products.  After calculating the average smoke intake for a 15 cigarettes-per-day smoker to be about 30 liters in volume, the scientists then pumped that quantity of vapor, HNB smoke, or tobacco cigarette smoke into separate, specially controlled glass chambers.  After thousands of tests involving a variety of products and under many different behavioral conditions of the users, the research team concluded the following.

“The aerosols form a spectrum of cancer potencies spanning five orders of magnitude from uncontaminated air to tobacco smoke. E-cigarette emissions span most of this range with the preponderance of products having potencies<1% of tobacco smoke and falling within two orders of magnitude of a medicinal nicotine inhaler; however, a small minority have much higher potencies. These high-risk results tend to be associated with high levels of carbonyls generated when excessive power is delivered to the atomiser coil.”
  
“Samples of a prototype heat-not-burn device have lower cancer potencies than tobacco smoke by at least one order of magnitude, but higher potencies than most e-cigarettes.”
 

The results of the University of St. Andrews research align with a similar vaping study published in 2015 by Public Health England (PHE), the UK’s equivalent public health agency to that of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  The PHE research determined almost five years ago that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking.  It also determined that vaping is not a gateway to smoking, claiming that less than 1% of never smokers who try e-cigarettes will eventually become long-term vapers. 

Related Article:  Repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory ‘vaping causes popcorn lung’ resurfaces

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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