Study of cancer-causing toxins finds e-cigarettes much safer than smoking

E-cigarettes are displayed at Gone With the Smoke Vapor Lounge on May 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
PHOTO: AFP

Consuming e-cigarettes is far safer and less toxic than smoking conventional tobacco cigarettes, according to the findings of a study analysing levels of dangerous and cancer-causing substances in the body.

Researchers found that people who switched from smoking regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gum or patches for at least six months had much lower levels of toxins in their saliva and urine than those who continued to smoke.

"Our study adds to existing evidence showing that e-cigarettes and NRT are far safer than smoking, and suggests that there is a very low risk associated with their long-term use," said Lion Shahab, a specialist in epidemiology and public health at University College London who led the work.

E-cigarettes have 10 times more carcinogens than regular tobacco

  • E-cigarettes contain up to 10 times the amount of cancer-causing agents as regular tobacco, Japanese scientists said
  • the latest blow to an invention once heralded as less harmful than smoking.
  • The electronic devices - increasingly popular around the world, particularly among young people
  • - function by heating flavoured liquid, which often contains nicotine, into a vapour that is inhaled, much like traditional cigarettes, but without the smoke.
  • Researchers found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapour produced by several types of e-cigarette liquid
  • Formaldehyde - a substance found in building materials and embalming fluids -
  • was present at levels 10 times those found in the smoke from regular cigarettes
  • 11 / 15 The World Health Organisation called on governments to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, warning they pose a "serious threat" to unborn babies and young people.

E-cigarettes, which heat nicotine-laced liquid into vapour, have grown into an $8 billion-a-year market, according to Euromonitor International - more than three times that of NRT products. They are, however, still dwarfed by a tobacco market estimated by Euromonitor to be worth around $700 billion.

Many health experts think e-cigarettes, or vapes, which do not contain tobacco, are a lower-risk alternative to smoking and potentially a major public health tool.

But some question their long-term safety and worry that they may act as a "gateway" to taking up conventional cigarettes. The US surgeon general in December urged lawmakers to impose price and tax policies that would discourage their use.

Monday's study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, analysed saliva and urine samples from long-term e-cigarette and NRT users as well as smokers, and compared levels of key chemicals found in their bodies.

It found that smokers who switched completely to e-cigarettes or NRT had significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens compared to people who continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes.

15 sneaky ways smoking ruins your life

  • Lighting up is a guaranteed way to premature aging and accelerating your journey to the grave.
  • The chemicals in tobacco smoke is said to trigger the destruction of collagen and elastin, which are fibers that give your skin its strength and elasticity.
  • According to doctors, inhaling tobacco smoke weakens the building blocks of the skin, resulting in saggy skin and deeper wrinkles.
  • On top of losing the elasticity of the skin that creates deep lines around the lips, smokers often get something called a "smoker's pucker".
  • When smokers suck air through a cigarette, they repeatedly use a certain set of muscles around their lips. Combined with the loss of skin elasticity, this causes the smoker's pucker.
  • Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss. But did you know that the link between smoking and ARMD is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer?
  • Toxins associated with smoking can restrict blood flow to the tiny capillaries in the eyes, cutting off vital nutrients and oxygen. It can cause cataracts, glaucoma, Graves' ophthalmopathy and diabetic retinopathy, among many other serious eye conditions.
  • Age spots are blotches of darker colour on your skin that betray your age.
  • Research suggests that smokers may be more susceptible to developing these unsightly spots.
  • Smoking can accelerate the process of thinning hair.
  • Some studies have even suggested that people who smoke are more likely to go bald.
  • Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes thick, red skin with flaky, silver-white patches called scales. It usually occurs on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet or back.
  • Recent studies have shown that not only can cigarettes worsen psoriasis symptoms, but a number of researchers believe that they may actually cause psoriasis in some patients.
  • Smoking can weaken your bones through osteoporosis - the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time.
  • This increases the risk of bone fractures.
  • More alarmingly, the bones in the spine can also be affected.
  • Osteoporosis can cause the spine to curve and result in a hunched back.
  • \Smoking causes the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart to become narrower over time, ups blood pressure and makes it easier for the blood to clot.
  • All these increases your odds of getting a heart attack.
  • The impact on the heart, lungs, blood circulation and bones all add up to a poorer performance on the track.
  • Smokers tend to suffer from a more rapid heart rate and shortness of breath even after just a mild workout.
  • In men who smoke, the reduced blood flow can also affect their manhood, leading to an increase in the likelihood of impotency.
  • In women, it can lead to difficulty conceiving and giving birth to a healthy baby. Smoking during pregnancy increases the chances of miscarriage, premature birth or delivering a low-birth-weight baby.
  • As mentioned, smoking causes the skin to lose its elasticity. This not only occurs on the face, but also on the body.
  • Research has pointed out that smoking is one of the top causes of sagging breasts and flabby underarms.
  • According to WebMD, compared to nonsmokers, smokers are more likely to develop oral cancer. Smokers who are also heavy drinkers are 15 times more likely to develop oral cancer.
  • But all is not lost, doctors say quitting smoking lowers the risk of oral cancer substantially within a few years.
  • While most women experience this in their twilight years, a study has found that on average, women who smoke reach menopause 1.5 years earlier than those who don't.
  • The longer you have smoked and the more you smoke, the stronger this effect is likely to be, the study said.
  • Smoking gives your fingernails and skin of your hands a yellowish tint. It doesn't stop there. Smokers are more likely to develop bad breath, gum disease and other oral hygiene issues.
  • Still think smoking is sexy? Think how sexy you'll look with a gaping smile. Smokers are twice as likely to lose teeth than non-smokers.

Those who used e-cigarettes or NRT but did not completely quit smoking did not show the same drop in toxin levels. This underlined that a complete switch was needed to get the long-term health benefits of quitting tobacco, the researchers said.

The World Health Organisation says tobacco is the world's biggest preventable killer, with a predicted cumulative death toll of a billion by the end of this century if current trends continue. Tobacco smoking currently kills around 6 million people a year.

Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at the government authority Public Health England, said the findings held a clear message for tobacco smokers.

"Switching to e-cigarettes can significantly reduce harm to smokers, with greatly reduced exposure to carcinogens and toxins," he said in a statement. "The findings also make clear that the benefit is only realised if people stop smoking completely and make a total switch.

"The best thing a smoker can do, for themselves and those around them, is to quit now, completely and forever."

More about

smoking cancer
Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES