Nearly 7 in 10 cigarette smokers are looking for a way to quit – and many smokers have turned to e-cigarettes for help. A researcher at the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center at the Stephenson Cancer Center has received a 5-year, $3 million R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the impact of e-cigarette usage on smoking rates.
The grant was awarded to Theodore Wagener, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics, associate director for training at the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center, and an Oklahoma TSET Research Scholar. National Cancer Institute R01 grants are the oldest and most prestigious type of cancer research grants.
Wagener’s research will assess how effective different types of e-cigarettes are in helping smokers switch from cigarettes to these vaping products and what impact switching has on smokers’ exposure to harmful carcinogens and cancer risk.
“We know that traditional combustible cigarettes, when used as intended kill one out of three smokers and is the leading cause of preventable death,” Wagener said. “There may be a potential benefit if smokers switch to e-cigarettes completely, but we need additional research to understand to what extent.”
Since e-cigarettes have emerged on the market, the design and nicotine delivery has evolved. The newest generation of high-powered e-cigarettes is able to deliver nicotine much more like a cigarette, but with much lower levels of cancer-causing agents and no carbon monoxide.
Early research demonstrates that an e-cigarette user may see some health benefit if they switch completely to the newer generation of e-cigarettes and reduce their exposure to combustible cigarette smoke.
“Missing from the current literature is a long-term randomized trial assessing differences between earlier, low-powered e-cigarette devices and newer, high-powered devices on affecting smoking behaviors, nicotine addiction, and users’ exposure to harmful chemicals and the resulting changes in cancer risk,” said Wagener.
Wagener’s study will monitor levels of chemicals and toxicants in an e-cigarette user’s body and inform the developing research base about the health impacts of e-cigarettes.
Through this improved understanding, the study hopes to better inform the Food and Drug Administration as it considers any product-specific regulations. Historically, the e-cigarette market has been unregulated.
As a TSET Research Scholar, Wagener, a clinical psychologist, has used a grant from TSET to fund research into the evolving field of e-cigarette use for more than four years. These pilot studies allowed Wagener to gather the necessary data to apply for the National Cancer Institute grant.
“[E-cigarettes are] a new and evolving field for tobacco addiction, and it’s important that those working to end tobacco use, regulators and consumers have the best information needed to make informed decisions,” said TSET Executive Director Tracey Strader. “While the science on e-cigarettes is developing, wedo know that nicotine is not good for the developing brains of youth and young adults, and that children, pregnant women, and nonsmokers should not be exposed to the secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes. Dr. Wagener’s research will certainly benefit Oklahomans, and should have relevance for the nation, and across the globe.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.
The e-cigarette research is funded by NCI grant R01 CA204891.