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Are smokers switching to vaping at lower risk for cancer?

Institution: University of Southern California
Investigator(s): Ahmad Besaratinia, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 28) Grant #: 28IR-0058 Award: $1,229,278
Subject Area: Environmental Exposure/Toxicology
Award Type: High Impact Research Project Award

Initial Award Abstract

Electronic cigarettes (e-cig) are battery-powered devices that heat solutions usually containing nicotine and flavorings into inhalable vapor. E-cig are promoted as safe alternatives to conventional tobacco cigarettes and/or as aides to smoking cessation. E-cig are highly popular among adult smokers who seek to transition to putatively harm-reducing tobacco substitutes. E-cig are also gaining rapid acceptance among adolescents, especially those who have never used combustible cigarettes. According to the World Health Organization, while e-cig represent an evolving frontier filled with promises and challenges for tobacco control, research is needed to empirically address the safety of e-cig and their efficacy in aiding smoking cessation. Whilst e-cig vapor is likely to be less toxic than cigarette smoke, it remains to be determined whether e-cig are indeed a modified-risk tobacco substitute and/or an effective smoking cessation tool. It is conceivable that e-cig may have potential utility for tobacco harm-reduction and/or smoking cessation. However, it is equally plausible that e-cig use, otherwise known as ‘vaping’, may pose a threat to regular vapers and others, e.g., fetuses of vaping pregnant mothers or bystanders exposed to secondhand vapor released into the environment. There is also concern that e-cig may serve as a gateway to nicotine addiction and lead to smoking, especially in adolescents. The latter may relate to the large variety of e-cig flavorings, many of which (e.g., candy-flavors) being highly attractive to children and youth. Analyses of e-cig liquid and vapor have shown that many cancer-causing chemicals present in cigarette smoke are also found in a range of e-cig products, albeit in generally lower concentrations. Yet, empirical data on the possible cancer-causing effects of e-cig use are lacking.

The present proposal investigates the cancer-causing potential of e-cig use as compared to cigarette smoking by measuring biological changes linked to risk of cancer in smokers who switch to e-cig use. Our findings are expected to raise awareness of the pros & cons of e-cig use, and lay the foundation for development of scientifically based regulations on e-cig manufacturing, marketing and distribution. Ultimately, data from this project can facilitate implementation of public education campaigns to prevent and/or reduce tobacco-related diseases.