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Study Shows E-Cigarettes Less Toxic Than Traditional Cigarettes

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In a new win for harm reduction, a news study published in the journal JAMA Network Open provides an estimate of toxins in e-cigarettes versus analog cigarettes. Of course there is no science as to the long-term effects of e-cigarettes yet, but Maciej Goniewicz, one of the authors of the study, told CNN that estimates can be measured.

“One of the ways to do that is to measure chemicals in our body that can indicate exposure to toxicants, so some biomarkers, and that is what we did in the study," Goniewicz, a pharmacologist and toxicologist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, said.

The researchers found 5,105 U.S.-based adults who fell into one of four groups:

  • cigarette-only smokers
  • dual users
  • e-cigarette-only users
  • those who used neither

Data was collected from 2013 to 2014 and came from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health study. CNN reports that the research studied concentrations of urine of 50 biomarkers “that showed exposure to tobacco-related toxicants.” Results of the study included:

  • Those who did not vape or smoke had “significantly lower concentrations of exposure” to most of the biomarkers
  • Those who vaped only had “lower levels of exposure than people who smoked traditional cigarettes or who smoked traditional cigarettes and vaped
  • The mean concentration of total nicotine equivalents was 93 percent lower in e-cigarette-only users than in traditional cigarette smokers
  • Dual users had the highest levels of exposure
  • Cigarette smokers had biomarker concentrations that were 36 percent lower for total nicotine equivalents and NNAL, a tobacco-specific nitrosamine, levels that were 23 percent lower than those of dual users. These nitrosamines are chemicals present in tobacco products that have been shown to cause lung cancer, Goniewicz said.

Goniewicz said that e-cigarettes could be of benefit in harm reduction, “but only when used the right way.”

"The only way for smokers to reduce exposure to toxicants is to completely switch to electronic cigarettes. So, no smoking but e-cigarette use," he said. “Clear health messages must be delivered to smokers that completely switching from smoking to e-cigarette use is necessary to confer a significant reduction.”

So, dual users seem to be losing out, according to this study, and should make the switch altogether to completely benefit from harm reduction.

Richard Miech, principal investigator at Monitoring the Future at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, told CNN that the new study was very important: "To my knowledge, this is one of the first toxicological studies based on population data and therefore one of the first that can be directly generalized to the U.S. population.”