Electronic cigarette use and harm reversal: emerging evidence in the lung

Direct confirmation that long-term EC use leads to reductions in smoking-related diseases is not available and it will take a few decades before the tobacco harm reduction potential of this products is firmly established. Nonetheless, it is feasible to detect early changes in airway function and respiratory symptoms in smokers switching to e-vapor.

Published: 18 March 2015

Positive: Yes

Link to publication: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/13/54

Authors:

Riccardo Polosa


Summary

Abstract

Electronic cigarettes (ECs) have been rapidly gaining ground on conventional cigarettes due to their efficiency in ceasing or reducing tobacco consumption, competitive prices, and the perception of them being a much less harmful smoking alternative. Direct confirmation that long-term EC use leads to reductions in smoking-related diseases is not available and it will take a few decades before the tobacco harm reduction potential of this products is firmly established. Nonetheless, it is feasible to detect early changes in airway function and respiratory symptoms in smokers switching to e-vapor. Acute investigations do not appear to support negative respiratory health outcomes in EC users and initial findings from long-term studies are supportive of a beneficial effect of EC use in relation to respiratory outcomes. The emerging evidence that EC use can reverse harm from tobacco smoking should be taken into consideration by regulatory authorities seeking to adopt proportional measures for the e-vapor category.

Keywords:

E-cigarette; E-vapor products; Harm reversal; Lung function; Respiratory system; Smoking cessation; Tobacco harm reduction

Background

The electronic cigarette (EC) has been rapidly gaining ground on conventional cigarettes and could surpass consumption of conventional cigarettes within the next decade, according to some prediction analyses [1]. The growing popularity of ECs proves that many adult smokers are keen on using an alternative technologic form of smoking to reduce cigarette consumption or quit smoking and to relieve tobacco withdrawal symptoms [2]. Data from internet surveys [2],[3] and clinical trials [4],[5] have shown that ECs may help smokers quit or reduce their tobacco consumption. Moreover, the popularity of ECs appears to be associated with the fact that they can be used in many smoke-free areas, their prices are competitive, and they are perceived as a much less harmful smoking alternative [3],[6].

Vapor toxicology under normal conditions of use is by far less problematic than that of conventional cigarettes [7], and exclusive EC users have significantly lower urine levels of tobacco smoke toxicants and carcinogens compared to cigarette smokers [8]. Thus, smokers completely switching to regular EC use are likely to gain significant health benefits.

Although a reduction in smoking-related diseases from long-term EC use can be inferred by the positive findings on Swedish snus (a tobacco harm reduction product consisting of refined oral tobacco which is low in nitrosamines) [9], direct confirmation is not available and it will take a few decades before a reduction in individual and population health outcomes due to the regular use of e-vapor products can be firmly established. Nonetheless, it is feasible to detect early changes in airway function and respiratory symptoms in smokers switching to e-vapor.

In this commentary, I discuss the emerging potential of ECs for harm reversal with a specific focus on the respiratory system.


Conclusion

Compared to combustible cigarettes, e-vapor products are at least 96% less harmful and may substantially reduce individual risk and population harm [22]. Future research will better define and further reduce residual risks from EC use to as low as possible by establishing appropriate quality control and standards. Although large longitudinal studies are warranted to elucidate whether ECs are a less harmful alternative to tobacco cigarettes and whether significant health benefits can be expected in smokers who switch from tobacco to ECs, the emerging evidence that EC use can reverse harm from tobacco smoking should be taken into consideration by regulatory authorities seeking to adopt proportional measures for the e-vapor category [23].

Full text: s12916-015-0298-3