Nuggets from the Nicotine Research Conference in Philadelphia
The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco is holding a massive conference in Philadelphia recently (February 25-28). The organization is a leading information provider for scientific investigation on issues relating to electronic cigarettes, and it tends to present an even-handed balance between harm reduction viewpoints and other points of view. Some of the best known and most respected scientists in the field are presenting papers or participating in symposia at the SRNT conference. Here are a few particularly significant examples.
Miaciej Goniewicz is affiliated with the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, where his position is in the Health Behavior Department of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Studies. His paper reports on the usefulness of "biomarkers" in comparing risk factors for smokers and vapers. Goniewicz notes that in smokers not yet suffering from disease it is difficult to assess risk. Biomarkers -- yes, we're talking about pee -- can show toxicant levels where standard health assessments don't yield significant information. Smokers peed in the jar at the beginning of the study, and again after 2 weeks of cessation therapy in conjunction with vaping. "We observed a significant decrease in toxin levels in urine with no change in nicotine uptake from e cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes." Surprise, surprise, surprise! In a cross-sectional study, " levels of biomarkers of selected toxicants were significantly lower in e-cigarette users when compared to smokers." The Goniewicz abstract is on page 14 of the .pdf version of the abstracts document (which differs slightly from the numbers at the bottoms of the pages).
A paper (page 15) by Sara Hitchman and 5 colleagues asks the question, "Do e-cigarettes help smokers quit?" The authors examine a longitudinal study conducted in the UK and the US, and found that for the UK quitters, " those using e-cigarettes during a quit attempt were more likely to be abstinent than those who quit without e-cigarettes, after controlling for factors related to cessation success." The US results have yet to be analyzed. Of course many commentators in this field have called for more longitudinal studies, that is studies conducted over a period of time. Such studies have been slow in coming for the simple reason that e-cigarettes haven't been around for all that long. The study Hichman and her cohorts assessed looked at self-reported abstinence at 30 days. Of course the authors call for longitudinal studies of greater longitude.
Another study by Goniewicz, who is extremely active at the conference, looked at the toxicants in secondhand vapor (abstract on page 37). Goniewicz reports that "Studies showed that e-cigarettes are a significant source of secondhand exposure to nicotine but not to combustion toxicants."
Although the toxicity and carcinogenic character of nicotine itself is hotly debated, most agree that the primary culprits in smoking-related disease are the other chemicals in the smoke of combustible cigarettes. As Mitch Zeller says, "People smoke for the nicotine, but die from the tars."
The SRNT conference promises to shed considerable light on the validity of harm reduction positions on electronic cigarettes.