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Vaping (e-cigarettes) is safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes

Study shows that using nicotine e-cigarettes, patches and gum is safer than smoking tobacco. However, this is only the case if people completely stop smoking tobacco and are not just using e-cigarettes, patches and gums to 'cut down'.

A recent study funded by Cancer Research UK compared levels of cancer causing chemicals in three groups. One group consisted of current smokers who were only smoking tobacco cigarettes. The second group was made up of ”combination smokers”. These were people who were still smoking tobacco cigarettes but they were also using e-cigarettes or other types of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as nicotine skin patches or chewing gum. The third group were people who used to smoke tobacco cigarettes but had stopped for at least six months and who were now only using nicotine e-cigarettes or nicotine patches or gum.

Both e-cigarettes, nicotine skin patches and nicotine gums contain nicotine so it was not surprising to find that the levels of nicotine were similar in all the three groups.

However, the most harmful thing about smoking is not the nicotine itself, but the harmful substances – such as tar and carbon monoxide – that are produced by smoking the tobacco. It was therefore encouraging to find that former smokers who were now only using e-cigarettes or only nicotine patches/gum, had significantly lower levels of certain cancer causing chemicals in their body. But, the group of combination smokers (still smoking tobacco but also using e-cigarettes, patches and gums) had similar levels of cancer causing chemicals as the group who were still regular smokers (smoking tobacco cigarettes). Therefore, cutting down on smoking by using e-cigarettes, patches or gum alongside regular tobacco smoking did not give any benefits in reducing levels of carcinogenic substances.

So, with regard to cancer causing chemicals, the study showed that using nicotine e-cigarettes, patches and gum is safer than smoking tobacco but only if people completely stop smoking tobacco.

This research is important as it is the first long-term study in this field. As with all research, this study also has limitations and more research is needed to increase our knowledge in this area. And then, we must also think about whether 'encouraging' vaping can influence people’s attitudes and perhaps ‘lure’ young people into trying e-cigarettes. We wrote about this in February 2016 and you can read that article here. Remember that e-cigarettes still contain nicotine which is an addictive substance (and the reason why it can be so hard to quit smoking) and the worry is that people get addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes and then go on to smoking tobacco and become regular smokers. E-cigarettes are meant as an aid to help people stop tobacco smoking, not introduce tobacco smoking to people who don’t already smoke.

You can read more about this study on the NHS Choices website.

This article was first published : 9.2.2017

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