The practice of switching from smoking to using e-cigarettes – vaping – for improved health outcomes has found support from a highly unlikely source in New Zealand: the University of Otago, long regarded as a leading denier of the public health benefit principle involved.
Grudgingly, in a blog entitled “What does recent biomarker literature say about the likely harm from e-cigarettes?”, the authors (Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Coral Gartner, Prof Richard Edwards) admit that smokers who switch are likely to see an improvement in their health, but still manage to sound negative, calling for longer-term studies before the case can be proven.
Examining biomarker levels in e-cigarette users, studies “all suggest lower levels of risk to vapers relative to tobacco smokers,” says the review. “It seems likely that if smokers shift entirely to vaping their risk of chronic disease would be expected to decline.”
The safest option for smokers using vaping to reduce their health risk, the review acknowledges, is to switch to vaping only, as soon as possible, and to aim to quit vaping too.
Results for cancer-related toxicants were variable, from zero to 23 percent of the levels observed for tobacco smokers, the authors noted, calling for more and long-term evidence before they accept the view of authorities elsewhere that switching to e-cigarettes represents a substantial public health improvement.
There is no ‘long-term’ evidence as yet because e-cigarettes were only invented 15 years ago.
Late last year, Otago University attracted derision from tobacco-control and harm reduction experts for saying vaping was bad just because it “looked like smoking”. The vice-chancellor’s advisory group chose to ban e-cigarettes on-campus, claiming their use “would undermine the ‘smoke-free culture’ fostered by smoke-free campuses, because vaping, at first glance, looked like smoking.”