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Home » UKVIA response to University College London study on vaping

UKVIA response to University College London study on vaping

The UK Vaping Industry Association welcomes research into the health impact of vaping so that the relative risks of vaping and smoking can be better understood.

While the study data – which one leading academic has described as ‘crude’ – implies a link to changes in cheek cells which could potentially cause cancer, the study authors said their findings did not prove that e-cigarettes caused cancer.

What we do know is that smoking causes at least 15 different types of cancer, is the biggest cause of cancer in the world and is responsible for 250 deaths in the UK every day.

The study authors said their findings showed that vapes ‘might not be as harmless as originally thought’ but it is important to make clear that nobody in the vape industry ever said that vaping was harmless. There are risks from vaping but they are tiny compared to smoking.

When Public Health England published its first evidence review of nicotine vaping in England in 2015 it was confident enough to say that vaping was ‘at least 95% less harmful than smoking’.

The research from King’s College London, on which the evidence review was based, continued to confirm the same relative risk over the next seven years as more and more data came in.

The eighth report in the series, published in 2022 by the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities (OHID), concluded that: “In the short and medium term, vaping poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking. Vaping is not risk-free, particularly for people who have never smoked.”

In addition, the same report concluded that there was ‘significantly lower exposure to harmful substances from vaping compared with smoking, as shown by biomarkers associated with the risk of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.’

Cancer Research UK, the world’s largest independent funder of Cancer Research, has always maintained there is ‘no good evidence’ that vaping causes cancer. It also says nicotine, the addictive chemical found in cigarettes and some vape products, does not cause cancer. Their response to this latest study also reinforces that it does not show that vapes cause cancer.

The facts are clear – cigarette smoke contains thousands of distinct constituents, many of which are toxic or carcinogenic. It is these toxic by-products of combustion, not the nicotine, that are responsible for smoking-related death and disease.

E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco leaves but use electronic heat sources to aerosolise a nicotine-containing liquid that is then inhaled by the user. This provides nicotine without burning tobacco, thus significantly reducing exposure to the harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke.

It is smoking that smokers and those that smoke and vape need to be extremely worried about when it comes to cancer. Smoking causes at least 15 different types of cancer. That’s because cigarette smoke contains more than 5,000 chemicals – 70 of which we know cause cancer – and smoking is responsible for 7 in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK.

This latest study is also questioned by leading experts such as Peter Shields, an emeritus professor of medical oncology at Ohio State University. He states that critical pieces of information are missing and calls the smoking and vaping data that they are working from as “crude”.  He points to the fact that that there is no biochemical verification that the vapers are actually not also smokers. He concludes that “researchers are still a far distance from being able to show causality and the data looks like vapers are actually more like never smokers – implying their risk of cancer is not increasing by vaping.”

Dr Marina Murphy, Scientific and Medical Affairs, MME International, said the relevance of the study findings to clinical effects was ‘highly questionable’.

Dr Murphy said: “There are serious limitations to translating the results of this study into clinical effects. This study looks at the methylation of DNA, whereby a methyl group becomes attached to the DNA strand.

“The data exhibits considerable variability and changes in hypermethylation become apparent in individuals after just one year.  Given what we know about smoking – the more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the higher the risk – and the fact that no clear dose-response relationship is observed here, hypermethylation would seem to be a poor proxy for lung cancer risk.

“In addition, similar effects were seen in smokers and users of smokeless tobacco. We know from years of epidemiology that smokeless tobacco users do not have a heightened risk of cancer, which also makes the relevance of these findings to clinical effects highly questionable.”

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