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New Research Shows E-Cigs Cut Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

A new study has found that smokers who switch from tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes may significantly cut their exposure to toxic chemicals.

The British Study, which was published this month in Cancer Prevention Research, found that when smokers chose e-cigs over tobacco cigarettes they reduced the amount of carbon monoxide and acrolein they inhaled by about 80 percent. Carbon monoxide and acrolein, which is also found in the vapor of some e-cigs, are both harmful to the human body.

The study started with researchers enlisting 40 smokers who said they wanted to quit. All were provided with e-cigs. Sixteen participants used only e-cigs for four weeks and 17 participants occasionally used an e-cig in place of their regular tobacco cigarette. 

The 16 participants who only used e-cigs were found to have a roughly 80 percent drop in exposure to both carbon monoxide and acrolein. The 17 participants who used a mix of tobacco cigarettes and electronic cigarettes had a 60 percent drop in exposure to acrolein and a 52 percent decline in exposure to carbon monoxide. Seven participants did not complete the study.

Carbon monoxide when inhaled can reduce the amount of oxygen in the body and also can lead to a hardening of arteries, which in turn leads to a greater risk of heart attack or stroke. Acrolein can irritate tissues in the airway and lungs and kill cilia, which are the tiny hairs that keep dirt and bacteria from entering the lungs. This leaves smokers more at risk for lung disease, as well as other ailments.

E-cigs are different from traditional tobacco cigarettes in several ways. For one, tobacco contains many toxic chemicals that are inhaled via the smoke that is given off. E-cigs, which are smoke-free, provide users with the nicotine they crave without having to inhale tobacco smoke and the accompanying toxins. 

In the study, participants were typically in their 40s and historically had tried to quit smoking at least twice before. All were given the same type of e-cigarettes and asked to try to use them exclusively and not use traditional tobacco cigarettes.

Researchers tested each participant’s urine for carbon monoxide at three intervals – one week before switching to e-cigs, on the day of the switch and then four weeks later. They used the same schedule to test each participant’s urine for exposure to acrolein.

Because the e-cigs provided contained vegetable glycerin – which contains acrolein – researchers had foreseen the possibility that the participants who used both e-cigs and tobacco cigarettes might see an increase in acrolein exposure.

The fact that acrolein exposure significantly dropped in the participants is considered a “headline finding,” according to researchers. While the study shows that smokers who switch to e-cigs will reduce exposure to toxins, researchers did note that the study had limitations. These include:

- The study only included people with a desire to quit smoking
- The study only used one brand of e-cigarettes
- The study was only four weeks in length

Researchers also noted that unlike other studies regarding smoking, more participants stuck with the study than normal. 

“It is interesting to note that only 15 percent of participants dropped out during the first four weeks of treatment, which is less than what we normally observe in studies using traditional stop-smoking medications,” they noted. “For instance, in a recently completed trial where participants received the standard UK Stop Smoking Service treatment with support identical to the current study, 46 percent of participants dropped out by four weeks. (E-cigs) may thus improve treatment retention compared with traditional treatments.”