Smokers who switch from traditional tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes may ingest the same level of nicotine, but their exposure to harmful chemicals is significantly reduced - so much so that it is like the person quit smoking. Those are the results of new research from Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study with smokers to demonstrate that substituting tobacco cigarettes with electronic cigarettes may reduce exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in tobacco cigarettes,” says lead author Maciej Goniewicz, PhD, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park. “This study suggests that smokers who completely switch to e-cigarettes and stop smoking tobacco cigarettes may significantly reduce their exposure to many cancer-causing chemicals.”
In a study conducted between March and June 2011, 20 healthy adult daily smokers were provided with e-cigarettes and 20 tobacco-flavored cartridges. Participants in the study had smoked traditional cigarettes for an average of 12 years and 95 percent of them said they planned to quit smoking. All participants were asked to substitute their usual tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes for two weeks.
The international scientific team measured participants’ urine levels of seven nicotine metabolites and 17 biomarkers for exposure to carcinogens and toxicants present in cigarette smoke over a two-week period. The biomarkers measured in the study are indicators of the risk of several diseases, including lung cancer.
For 12 of 17 biomarkers, they found significant declines in exposure to toxins when participants changed from smoking to vaping. The decline was similar to that seen among traditional cigarette users who quit smoking.
At the same time, Goniewicz says, nicotine levels remained the same for e-cigarettes, so there were none of the cravings or withdrawal symptoms seen with traditional tobacco. Because of this, he says e-cigs could prove to be a promising tool for quitting smoking.
"The main recommendation from the study is to the smokers who are thinking about using electronic cigarettes, who tried to quit many times and they did not succeed, " says Goniewicz. "We know that the best way to reduce cancers is to quit smoking, but we know also here from our research how hard it is and we are thinking about new approaches."
Goniewicz says the research is promising for heavy smokers, not non-smokers who want to experiment with e-cigarettes. He says it is the carcinogens and toxic chemicals in traditional cigarettes and in their smoke that cause health problems - such as lung cancer and cardiovascular disease - not the nicotine.
So the next step, he says, is to research the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes and whether they can help reduce disease. The new research has been published online ahead of print in the journal Nicotine Tobacco Research.