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Are e-Cigs safer than smoking tobacco? Ohio State researchers aim to find out

Sponsored -- While more and more Americans are turning to electronic cigarettes, doctors and government health officials still don’t know what effect so-called “vaping” has on health.
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While more and more Americans are turning to electronic cigarettes as an alternative to cancer-causing cigarettes made of paper and tobacco, doctors and government health officials still don’t know what effect so-called “vaping” has on health.

Now researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) are launching two clinical studies aimed at determining how using e-cigarettes affects a user’s health. Healthy volunteers who use tobacco products are being recruited for the studies.

For the first study, researchers are recruiting about 60 cigarette smokers, e-cig users, smokeless tobacco users and non-smokers to help the scientists determine whether e-cig use impacts lung health differently than traditional cigarettes. In the second study, researchers are seeking several hundred smokers who are otherwise in good health so the scientists can evaluate whether e-cigarettes and other tobacco products expose users to cancer-causing chemicals and other smoke toxins.

The research project was announced Nov. 1, several weeks before the annual Great American Smokeout, an American Cancer Society promotion that encourages smokers to quit, even for one day, on the third Thursday of November. Believing that electronic cigarettes are safer, many smokers attempt to quit regular tobacco by switching to vaping.

So far, there is no hard evidence that using electronic cigarettes is better or worse than smoking regular cigarettes, according to Peter Shields, MD, deputy director of the OSUCCC and a thoracic medical oncologist at The James.

“There is minimal data available regarding the direct health effects of e-cig use or vaping, but these products have gained rapid popularity among existing smokers and non-smokers alike, including young adults,” Shields says. “We are concerned that people assume these products have fewer negative health effects as compared with cigarettes and other tobacco products. The reality is that they are still a tobacco product, and people are still inhaling potentially harmful chemicals. They should not be considered a ‘safer’ option until science has the opportunity to catch up with the consumer market.”

Electronic cigarettes use liquid containing nicotine, as well as varying compositions of flavorings, propylene glycol, glycerin, and other ingredients. The liquid is heated into an aerosol that the user inhales. Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in tobacco. It acts as both a stimulant and a relaxant.

Although an electronic cigarette can provide nicotine without the cancer-causing tar inhaled by smoking tobacco, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any e-cigarette as a safe or effective method to help smokers quit.

The OSUCCC – James research is funded by the FDA and the National Cancer Institute to guide consumer regulation of tobacco products based on scientific findings.

While finding a safe way to quit smoking is still the best way to reduce the risk of lung cancer, oncologists say CT screenings are the best procedures for detecting lung cancer in its early stages among people at the highest risk for this disease.

Lung cancer screenings are recommended because, by the time more obvious symptoms arise, it’s often too late to cure the disease. Screenings have improved the early detection rate, and lung cancer treatments are showing better results. Survival rates have increased from as low as just a few months to years, according to David Carbone, MD, PhD, a researcher and director of the Thoracic Oncology Center at the OSUCCC – James.

To learn more about the lung cancer team at the – OSUCCC – James, visit cancer.osu.edu/lungcancer or call 1-800-293-5066. Lung cancer screenings are offered every week at the Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza Tower Building and at Ohio State University Hospital East, both in Columbus.

To learn more about the e-cigarette research study, visit cancer.osu.edu/ecigs, email comet-study@osumc.edu or call 1-844-744-2447.