Do e-cigarettes pose a risk to human health?

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Do e-cigarettes pose a risk to human health?

FRAME is concerned that health claims are being made about e-cigarettes without the benefit of accurate data. In the latest issue of FRAME’s scientific journal ATLA, Dr Robert Combes and Professor Michael Balls look at statements made by Public Health England (PHE) regarding the potential harm from e-cigarettes, compared with smoking tobacco products.

PHE has stated that ‘best estimates’ show e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than normal cigarettes. But, the authors say, there have been no studies carried out on the safety, or otherwise, of using the new style ‘vaping’ products.  They believe that investigations should be carried out before safety claims are made, and are also concerned that traditional, animal-based, tests would not provide reliable data.

They said: “Strategic policy decisions are being made about e-cigarettes, based on the plausibility of their greater safety, rather than on essential scientific evidence which would permit a proper risk assessment. If e-cigarettes are really ‘safer’, then their use should be recommended, but only after an intelligent analysis of their risk to human health, based on integrated in silico, in vitro and clinical studies for both scientific and logistical reasons.”

The paper sets out their plan for effective data gathering that would enable reliable decisions to be made about e-cigarette use. “We feel that most, if not all, of the required data could be obtained in a more-timely way by implementing a strategy focused on the coordinated use of chemical, in vitro and clinical methods. Moreover, because the information will have largely been obtained by using organotypic tissue culture systems comprised of cells from the target tissues and species, it will be of direct relevance to assessing risk levels arising from the use of e-cigarettes.”

They go on to say: “Although we are not in favour of testing just for the sake of it, we fervently believe that it is very simplistic and premature, at this time, to base important public health decisions of the sort currently being proposed by PHE, on inadequate evidence of safety and/or potentially irrelevant and unreliable extrapolation.”

In a supporting editorial FRAME Scientific Director Dr Gerry Kenna considers studies from the 1950s in which Sir Richard Doll established a clear link between tobacco smoking and ill health. Doll carried out a methodical case study into the massive rise in lung cancer that took place in post-war Britain.

Although his findings were not immediately accepted, they were confirmed by further long-term studies that proved the link between smoking and lung cancer, as well as strong associations between smoking and lung disease, heart disease and reduced life expectancy.

Dr Kenna supports the paper’s call for a new approach to testing the effects of e-cigarettes without recourse to animal experiments. “Let us hope that it is adopted by the scientific community and gains regulatory and governmental support, so that we can be informed of whether e-cigarettes really are as safe and useful as some would have us believe.”

Both papers are available on the ATLA website. Click here. You will need to register to read the papers but both are available free of charge.

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