Shocking Penn State Study on Vaping and Cigarettes

A new study out shows that people who use vape devices are less addicted to vaping than traditional smokers.

The study, which was reported by Newswise, was conducted by the Penn State College of Medicine, a school that has an estimated $110 million in funded research, most notably in advancements in cancer treatments as well as the understanding of the fundamental causes of disease. It was led by Guodong Liu, an assistant professor of public health sciences at the college; Liu was joined by Emily Wasserman, a biostatistician, and Jonathan Foulds, a professor. Both work in the Department of Public Health Services at the Penn Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science. The study itself was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Tobacco Products.

A Primer on Vaping and Cigarette Use

Cigarette use has declined in the United States for decades; a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from May of last year has the revealed that 15.1 percent of adults smoked traditional cigarettes in 2015, a number that has decreased nearly ten percent since the same time in 1997. When then-CDC director Tom Frieden spoke with Audie Cornish, host of NPR’s All Things Considered program, he stated that:

“There’s still far too many adults and kids using tobacco, but this is real progress. So one thing that’s happening is a whole generation of kids smoked a lot less, and they’re aging in and replacing the young adults who smoked at a very high rate 10 years ago. So that’s one positive harvest, really, of more than a decade of good tobacco control efforts. We’re also seeing most people who’ve ever smoked have already quit, and most people who still smoke want to quit.”

Yet as the rate of traditional smoking has gone down, the rate of vapers has steadily risen in the past ten years. And although vape products have already been noted for being less dangerous than traditional tobacco products, even gaining the support of the Royal College of Physicians to be used as a smoking cessation method in the United Kingdom, the CDC continues to caution against getting too optimistic about vaping.

In the same interview with NPR, which can be read in full here, Frieden talks about vape products, saying:

“We’re releasing a few different trends with e-cigarettes. There are some adults for whom it appears to help them quit smoking for good. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, most adults who use e-cigarettes continue to smoke regular cigarettes. And far too many kids are using e-cigarettes, and that is risking the progress for the future.”

But with a new administration comes a new perspective on vaping, one that is bolstered by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. He has spoken at length in his Senate confirmation hearing that he is waiting for science to determine whether or not vaping can be a benefit to public health.

Anti-Vaping Claims

While many studies have shown that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes, some experts, including those at Penn State College of Medicine and other US-led research firms, are indicating that inhaled aerosols, like vape liquids, are not 100 percent harmless. A 2016 report released by the United States Surgeon General’s Office has called for more research on the public health impact of vaping, even though that report itself is under intense scrutiny for its biased conclusion and neglect of properly categorizing

Experts continue to also point to the fact that nicotine can lead to dependence and thereby lead a person, or more specifically teens and young adults, to consider using traditional cigarettes. This is up for debate, as it seems that there is a downward trend of young adults using both cigarettes and vaping devices; a study done in Wales indicates that many young people view vaping as a fad and have been less interested in it as they become more educated on tobacco and nicotine.

The Study

The study was conducted to measure both vaping and traditional cigarette dependence. The data was culled using the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health, or PATH, study, which is conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the FDA. In the responses for the study, researchers took into account the daily usage of both vape devices and cigarette smokers.

The complete study surveyed approximately 32,320 adult participants; only 3,586 respondents met the criteria for the study. Of those used in the study, about five percent used vape devices exclusively, while 95 percent smoked cigarettes exclusively. Of the vape users, 93 percent reported having once been regular cigarette smokers while seven percent had periodically or occasionally smoked cigarettes.

The Results

All of the participants in the study were measured as being dependent on their vape device or smoking habit due to the regularity, or the number of times they used their product on a daily basis, of their habit.

The study found that vape users generally waited longer to use their product after waking up than cigarette smokers. This group was also less likely to report themselves as addicted to their product, have strong cravings to use their device, or in any way feel as though they needed to vape throughout the day when compared to traditional cigarette smokers.

Most importantly, vape users reported finding it less difficult to not use their device in restricted places, a claim that could not be matched by cigarette smokers.

The results have been reported in the medical journal “Preventive Medicine” with lead author Liu stating in an interview with WeareCentralPA that: “No doubt about it, e-cigarettes are addictive, but not at the same level as traditional cigarettes.”

The Aftermath

Follow-up studies are planned for the future, this time focusing on a more detailed analysis of vape users and their dependency as vape technology advances. It’s also important to note that approximately 80 percent of adult PATH respondents also voluntarily submitted blood and urine samples at the same time that they completed the survey.

Liu’s group plans to continue to study this data once the National Institute on Drug Abuse makes it available; the plan is to see if the measured nicotine levels in the participants’ blood agree with the respondents’ level of dependence. Another study is planned to utilize the data from both vape users and cigarette users to see how nicotine dependence is different between the two products.

“We suspect that most e-cigarette users are either experimental users or dual users of e-cigarettes and at least one type of traditional tobacco product, like cigarettes,” Liu said. “We want to learn if dual users’ dependence levels differ from each other and also from exclusive e-cigarette or cigarette users.”

The PATH participants will continue to be surveyed on a regular basis, adding to the data needed to see if nicotine dependence continues to show the same trend. Any further conclusions are thought to be used to inform regulation tightening or loosening of FDA regulations.

This publication will update readers on the PATH study as more information becomes available.

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