Last year, researchers at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC at the University of Victoria produced a report titled, Clearing the Air: A systematic review of the harms and benefits of e-cigarettes and vapour devices, which examined 1,622 journal articles on the health consequences of electronic cigarettes, in the areas of smoking cessation, youth, second-hand vapour, and toxicity compared to tobacco cigarettes.
The report noted that more research is needed in this area, but that the “evidence from higher quality studies is encouraging and many researchers have found an appreciable number of vapour product users are quitting tobacco.” The researchers also said that it “is clear that claims for a negative impact of vapour devices on cessation are unjustified.”
Concerns over minors
A common fear among researchers and policymakers is that youth who try e-cigarettes will eventually end up smoking. However, the researchers noted that, “This does not appear to be occurring as tobacco use in the US, Canada, and other countries is declining significantly among 12 – 19 year olds as vapour device use is increasing.” They cited two studies, which showed that “US adolescents with access to vapour devices had lower rates of tobacco uptake than those who were banned from the legal purchase of vapour devices.” Furthermore, the researchers believe that e-cigarette use does not lead to tobacco use, but that some young people are more apt to experiment with both products because “the psycho-social factors that influence youth tobacco uptake appear to be the same ones influencing youth vapour device experimentation.”
In terms of the health effects of second-hand vapour, the report notes that it does expose bystanders to nicotine, but that there is no evidence that this “poses significant second-hand health risks.” The researchers also found that second-hand vapour is “far less toxic than cigarette smoke, often by several orders of magnitude,” as it does not contain the “carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.”
According to the study’s authors, the research is “very encouraging for the potential of vapour devices for harm reduction,” as they “exponentially decrease exposure levels of the cancer causing agents … found in cigarettes,” and that they do not “cause several adverse physiological effects that occur with cigarette use.” “Overall,” the report states, “we conclude that vapour devices present lower risks than conventional cigarettes for those using vapour devices as a substitute for smoking, and there is strong evidence of benefit.”
The report recommends that, “Canadian regulation of vapour devices be driven by best available evidence with a view to supporting improved public health outcomes. Policy should not be driven by ungrounded fears of a ‘gateway effect’ but, rather, be geared towards helping tobacco smokers quit and ensuring that only the safest devices are legally available, thereby reducing harm for both direct and second hand exposure.”