E-cigarettes are less toxic and safer to use than conventional cigarettes, according to UK researchers.
They found people who swapped smoking regular cigarettes for e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapy for at least six months had much lower levels of cancer causing substances than smokers.
“Some doubts about the safety of e-cigarettes may be wrong”
For the first time, researchers analysed the saliva and urine of long-term e-cigarette and NRT users, as well as smokers, comparing body-level exposure to key chemicals.
Previous research into the toxicity of e-cigarettes has focused on assessing concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals within the products themselves, or the vapor they produce.
In the new study, levels of TSNAs (tobacco-specific nitrosamines) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) metabolites were examined. The compounds have well-established smoking-related toxicological and carcinogenic risks, noted the researchers in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Ex-smokers who switched to e-cigarettes or NRT had significantly lower levels of the toxic chemicals and carcinogens in their body, compared to people who continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes.
However, those who used e-cigarettes or NRT while continuing to smoke, failed to show the same marked differences, suggesting that a complete switch is needed to reduce exposure to toxins.
“Understanding and communicating the benefits of nicotine replacements is an important step”
The study follows the growing popularity of e-cigarettes as a method to aid smoking cessation. However, their sudden popularity has been accompanied by question marks over their safety and concerns among some campaigners that they still too closely mimic the act of smoking.
Lead study author Dr Lion Shahab, from University College London, said: “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.
“We’ve shown that the levels of toxic chemicals in the body from e-cigarettes are considerably lower than suggested in previous studies using simulated experiments,” he said. “This means some doubts about the safety of e-cigarettes may be wrong.”
E-cigarettes safer than smoking, claim cancer researchers
He added: “Our results also suggest that while e-cigarettes are not only safer, the amount of nicotine they provide is not noticeably different to conventional cigarettes. This can help people to stop smoking altogether by dealing with their cravings in a safer way.”
Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, suggested that communicating the benefits seen in the study to patients would be a key step.
“We want to see many more of the UK’s 10 million smokers break their addiction,” she said. “This study adds to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are a much safer alternative to tobacco, and suggests the long term effects of these products will be minimal.
“Understanding and communicating the benefits of nicotine replacements, such as e-cigarettes, is an important step towards reducing the number of tobacco-related deaths here in the UK,” she added.