World Cancer Day 2019: Leading UK expert answers common questions on e-cigarettes

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Smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable death in the UK, as all around the globe healthcare workers, cancer survivors, charities and researchers mark World Cancer Day 2019.


Are e-cigarettes healthier than cigarettes? Can e-cigarettes be harmful to human health? How much do we know about the long-term use of e-cigarettes? What are the major differences between the lungs of a cigarette smoker and those of an e-cigarette user?

These are just some of the questions answered by Dr Lion Shabab who is an Associate Professor at University College London, in an interview with News-Medical Life Sciences to mark this year’s  global cancer awareness initiative.

Addressing some of the most popular questions which arise about e-cigarettes, Dr Shabab said there is a ‘growing consensus’ that suggests e-cigarettes do not pose even five percent of the health risks posed by cigarettes.

“Tobacco contains more than 600 compounds which are turned into around 5,000, including at least 70 carcinogens, when a cigarette is lit and tobacco burnt at around 800 degrees centigrade. By comparison, e-liquids used in e-cigarettes are primarily composed of humectants, such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavorings which are heated to around 200 degrees centigrade.”

On the topic of further research, the tobacco control and health psychology expert says while there is not yet an answer for the long-term effect of vaping on the body,  the ingredients in e-cigarette products are not likely to be as bad as the ‘toxic’ components of a cigarette.

“The humectants used in e-cigarettes are commonly found in food stuffs (e.g. toothpaste), as are most of the flavorings, and these are generally considered to be safe. What we do not know is how inhaling these substances into the lungs long-term will affect them, and it would seem reasonable that at the very least this would cause some irritation and inflammation.”

“But to reiterate, cigarettes are much more harmful because of the large number of combustion products inhaled into the lungs, and research that others and I have conducted shows that exposure to carcinogens linked to diseases such as lung cancer are greatly reduced in vapers compared with smokers, suggesting health benefits in the long-term for those switching to e-cigarettes from cigarettes.”

Dr Shabab also produced Public Health England’s latest video in conjunction with Dr Rosemary Leonard. The video, released in the early stages of the New Year, demonstrates the effects of cigarette smoking versus vaping an e-cigarette on the lungs. It also reiterates the message that smoking is the biggest cause of preventable death in the UK.

Dr Shabab adds:

“E-cigarettes have been shown to be at least as effective as nicotine replacement therapy in helping people stop, roughly doubling abstinence rates.”


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