It’s probably safe to say that the most contradictory research currently done in the area of smoking cessation involves electronic cigarettes. Even those who keep up with the news find it hard to follow every study that gets published because it seems that a new one crops up every week.
The worst thing about those studies is that they often contradict each other; one labels e-cigarettes as worse than smoking when it comes to carcinogens, while another one says that there is no evidence that they can cause cancer. Similarly, one week you’re going to read that secondhand vapor is cause for concern and then immediately find out that there’s actually no such thing as secondhand vapor.
So, which one is it? Are electronic cigarettes a virus or the vaccine?
The scope of this post isn’t nearly broad enough to answer that particular question. However, what it will do is to try to assess (based on currently available scientific evidence) whether or not using e-cigarettes is a healthier substitute for smoking. After all, there are tens of thousands of men and fathers out there who are struggling with smoking and quitting (myself included). Don’t we deserve to know if vaping is a viable smoking cessation method?
The Formaldehyde Controversy Cleared Up
One of the most damaging studies to hit vaping is definitely the one from Portland State University scientists. It was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 and then widely circulated by dozens of media outlets. It highlighted the dangers of formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) exposure from the use of advanced personal vaporizers and vape pens. The study boldly concluded that heavy vapers are 15 times more likely to die of cancer than long-term smokers.
Well, the math didn’t sit right with some scientists and they decided not to take the study for granted. They examined the methodology used and found that measurements were conducted under unrealistic usage conditions. In essence, the PSU scientists overheated the liquid in vaporizers to a point that actual users (who are not puff machines) wouldn’t be able to withstand. They forced so-called ‘dry-puffs’ – which produce horrible taste – deliberately in order to create the above-mentioned formaldehyde. Dr. Farsalinos, a cardiac surgery research fellow and a leading expert when it comes to the health effects of vaping, stated that no vaper would consciously vape under such conditions as described in the study.
Vaping and the Matters of the Heart
Ok, we now know that the big formaldehyde scare was actually blown out of proportion. However, vaping certainly can’t be good for your heart, right? Smokers are extremely concerned about their tickers since cigarette smoke can cause all kinds of problems for it, but is the same true about vaping?
Well, the jury is out on that one, as it seems.
One study conducted in 2016 by Charalambos Vlachopoulos, a cardiology professor, and his team suggests that vaping can create problems with the heart. More to the point, it concluded that vapers have an increased risk of suffering from aortic stiffness, which could lead to heart failure. Experts agree that this is a side-effect of the nicotine compound and occurs in smokers as well. Still, it’s not a pleasant thought to go bed with if you’re a vaper.
On the other hand, a study conducted by Farsalinos et al in 2014 ‘determined that vaping has essentially no adverse effects to the myocardial heart functions of any kind’. Similarly, a Public Health England study also concluded that vaping carries 95 % less risk of adverse health effects than smoking.
This is murky water right here. In all fairness, the effects of vaping on the heart probably won’t be known for some time more, not until several long-term studies are conducted. However, most of the evidence points to the fact that smoking does immeasurably more damage to the heart than vaping. If you’re choosing between two evils, choose the lesser one.
Are E-Cigarettes a Viable Smoking Cessation Tool?
Again, this is also an area that’s rife with ambiguity. Some studies note that e-cigarettes can be a very useful tool when it comes to quitting smoking, while others say that they can actually make the process harder.
For example, Kalkhoran & Glantz review from 2016 concludes that e-cigarettes can make quitting harder. The review compiled numerous smoker surveys that were trying to ascertain how many smokers were successful in quitting by using e-cigarettes.
On the other hand, a 2015 review published in PloS One had a completely different result. This review only looked at randomized controlled tests – tests that randomly assign people to one intervention and then measure that intervention’s effectiveness. The end result pointed to e-cigarettes being more effective than NRTs and medicine when it came to smoking cessation success rates.
The fundamental difference here is the type of research these scientists decided to take into account. That accounts for different results. For what is worth, most scientists agree that randomized controlled tests provide more accurate data. Surveys are notoriously untrustworthy and can’t account for a number of different factors that might come into play and corrupt the data.
Perhaps the most telling literature review was conducted by Cochrane – a non-profit that reviews all evidence on healthcare interventions and issues standardized reports that help consumers and experts make difficult decisions (which the use of e-cigarette definitely is). The Cochrane e-cigarette report examined high-quality studies and concluded that (1) e-cigs can help people quit smoking, and (2) there are no noticeable short-term adverse health effects. Of course, the report also warns that further studies are needed and that long-term effects of using e-cigarettes are still unknown.
E-cigs are a still highly debatable issue among scientists because not enough studies on long-term effects have been done. Until we have that data (hopefully, it’s going to be soon), there will be room for disagreement, even among leading researchers looking into the whole thing.
Currently, after all the evidence is presented, you still have to make a decision – to use e-cigarettes or not? Personally, I decided to use them. Keep in mind that I’m a smoker and I’m hoping that, eventually, I’ll be able to wean myself off fags and switch to vaping completely.
I wouldn’t recommend the use of e-cigs to people who don’t smoke. What’s the point of inhaling any questionable chemicals into your lungs if you’re not doing it as a smoking cessation effort? The safety of e-cigs can only be discussed in the context of smoking. Regular fags kill half of the people who use them. So far, there’s no evidence that vaping killed a single person. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
Photo: Provided by Author
This post was part of a paid partnership.