The lack of long-term scientific studies into e-cigarettes is a common complaint. But the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (CTRI) is now starting to address that through a multi-year investigation of e-cigs’ health effects, backed by $3.7m in funding from the U.S. government’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Cancer Institute.
The study will follow 150 smokers who only use conventional tobacco, and another 250 who dual-use conventional tobacco and e-cigarettes. Researchers will collect information on how the two groups differ in patterns of use, levels of addiction, withdrawal symptoms, success in quitting, relapses back into nicotine use, and other lifestyle factors.
They hope it will enable them to better understand the relationships of vaping to nicotine dependence, smoking cessation and smoking reduction, as well as long-term health impacts in areas such as exposure to carcinogens and heart/circulatory effects.
“This research will allow us to examine the public health effects of smoking and vaping during this critical period of emerging policy discussions,” said CTRI associate director of research Megan Piper.
Initial tests performed by the CTRI suggested that e-cigarettes are much safer than combustibles. But more careful examinations in lab settings showed some worrying signs that should be investigated, CTRI clinical services director Douglas Jorenby told local media.
“There are a lot of anecdotal pros and cons out there but when it comes to evidence that meets the scientific standards we have far too little – other than we know the use of e-cigarettes is exploding,” said Jorenby.
“We’re trying to look at some things that may be more sensitive markers so we don’t have to wait 20, 30, 40 years to say: ‘Whoops, this is not a good idea.’”
What This Means: The paucity of longitudinal studies on e-cigs is an inevitable result of the products’ short history, and the Wisconsin study is one of a number underway in the U.S. to fill the gap.
FDA funding implies that regulators do indeed want to come up with a science-based solution to legal issues.
However, even the first few answers from the CTRI study are a number of years away, and the FDA’s deeming regulations are supposedly just around the corner. So short-term policy is likely to remain uninformed by insight into the long-term effects of e-cigs.
– Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff
Photo: Jacob Joaquin