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Health effects of e-cigarettes: a decrease in exposure to harmful carcinogens, new study says

health effects of e-cigarettes

A new study on the health effects of e-cigarettes has found that tobacco smokers who switched to e-cigarettes showed marked decreases in known carcinogens and toxicants after only two weeks of e-cigarette use.

In what the authors are calling the first study to demonstrate that switching tobacco cigarettes for e-cigarettes can reduce exposure to many of the toxins and cancer-causing agents present in tobacco smoke, researchers measured 17 different tobacco smoke biomarkers in urine samples from 20 smokers who switched to pen-style e-cigarettes for a period of two weeks and found that after only one week, significant reductions were recorded in levels for harmful chemicals such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene and acrylonitrile.

“The observed decline in various urine toxicant biomarker levels in our study was similar to decline among smokers who have quit smoking completely and did not substitute with any other product,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the scientific journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. “This observation suggests that e-cigarettes are not a significant source of exposure to those toxicants.”

An estimated 37,000 people in Canada die each year as a result of smoking tobacco – roughly 100 people every day – with cigarette smoking found to be the cause of 30 per cent of cancer deaths and 85 per cent of lung cancers in Canada. Smoking rates have declined significantly over the past half-century, from the 1960s when roughly 50 per cent of Canadians smoked (61 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women) to an overall rate of 19.9 per cent as of 2011.

Over the past half-decade, however, smoking rates have leveled off, leaving health advocates to strategize over how to get the remaining smokers to kick the habit. And thus, central to current debates is the issue of whether or not to promote the health effects of e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to tobacco.

In May of this year, the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians stated that while the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes are still unknown, tobacco smokers should nonetheless be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes, arguing that the health hazards are comparably worse from tobacco smoking. “E-cigarettes and other non-tobacco nicotine products offer the potential radically to reduce harm from smoking in our society,” says epidemiologist Dr. John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians. “This is an opportunity that should be managed and taken.”

Yet, the Canadian Cancer Society has so far not come out in favour of promoting e-cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy, stating that for the growing youth market especially, e-cigarettes may ultimately stand as a potential gateway to tobacco smoking. “We’re concerned that these devices are just another device to hook teen into a behaviour that is ultimately bad for their health in the long term,” said Lyz Gilgunn, health promotion coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society in greater Vancouver, in conversation with Metro News.

What’s more important at this point is e-cigarette regulation across the country, says the Canadian Cancer Society.

“This is a product category that needs appropriate regulation, to prevent use by minors, and to prevent industry marketing strategies that would impede smokers from quitting altogether,” says Rob Cunningham, policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society.

Currently, many provinces in Canada have either adopted or are proposing legislation for the sale of e-cigarettes, including banning their sale to minors and prohibiting their use in public places and workplaces.

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About The Author /

Jayson MacLean
Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

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