Study of cancer-causing toxins finds e-cigs much safer than smoking

LONDON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Consuming e-cigarettes is far safer and less toxic than smoking conventional tobacco cigarettes, according to the findings of a study analyzing levels of dangerous and cancer-causing substances in the body.

Researchers found that people who switched from smoking regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gum or patches for at least six months had much lower levels of toxins in their saliva and urine than those who continued to smoke.

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Employee at Cloud 10, an e-cigarette store in Simi Valley, CA, demonstrates the type of smoke, with no smell, comes out of an electric cigarette. Sales are Booming at this store.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images

A customer exhales vapor while smoking an electric cigarette at the Betamorph E-Cigs store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Sales in the U.S. vapor-device market are projected to rise by 21% annually through 2020, based on Euromonitor Passport data.

(Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An e-cigarette store in Simi Valley, CA, called Cloud 10, displays various types of electric cigarettes juice flavors for sale. Sales are Booming at this store.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images)

Indonesian teenager exhaling smoke from Electric Cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as seen in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia on December 5, 2014 night. Electric cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are increasingly popular in Indonesia, especially among teenagers. In fact, cigarettes are actually more harmful than regular cigarettes with an increasing number of patients with poisoning after using electronic cigarettes and nicotine liquid continues to increase. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes, electronic cigarette brand has been produced in 466, 8,000 taste, spending budget of US $ 3 billion.

(Photo by Ivan Damanik/NurPhoto) 

Gdynia, Poland 29th, Dec. 2015 Polish Ministry of Health plans to ban electronic cigarettes sales to persons under the age of 18, restrictions on advertising and promotion and to introduce to them technical requirements. The new Tobacco Control law will come into force in the 2nd quarter of 2016. Pictured: Lady smokes electronic cigarette.

(Michal Fludra/Corbis via Getty Images)

Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand smokes an electric cigarette during day two of the World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath Golf Club on November 25, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Electric cigarette 'juice' w/various flavors.This is at Cloud 10 in Simi Valley, CA This brand is the most popular at this store. Santa Monica just passed the law no e-cigarettes allowed anywhere. Business is booming at this location.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images

Mitchell Baker who works at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, exhales vapour produced by an e-cigarette on December 30, 2016 in Bristol, England. Recent figures released by the e-cigarette industry has claimed that there as many as 1700 vaping shops across the country, with two new ones opening each day catering for the estimated three million vapers in the UK. The popularity of e-cigarettes has boomed in the last ten years, as it is seen by many as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, however some critics say the devices can carry the same risks as smoking especially as the long term affects are yet to be known.

(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

E-cigarette merchandise is displayed for sale at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, on December 30, 2016 in Bristol, England. Recent figures released by the e-cigarette industry has claimed that there as many as 1700 vaping shops across the country, with two new ones opening each day catering for the estimated three million vapers in the UK. The popularity of e-cigarettes has boomed in the last ten years, as it is seen by many as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, however some critics say the devices can carry the same risks as smoking especially as the long term affects are yet to be known.

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A reveller dressed in a Father Christmas costume smokes from an electronic cigarette device as he takes part in Santacon outside Euston Station on December 10, 2016 in London, England. Santacon is an annual parade taking place in cities around the world and sees revellers dressed in Father Christmas costumes take to the streets to spread seasonal cheer.

(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Flavored vape juice bottles are displayed for sale at the Betamorph E-Cigs store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Sales in the U.S. vapor-device market are projected to rise by 21% annually through 2020, based on Euromonitor Passport data.

(Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A woman smokes an electronic cigarette during the Vapexpo 2015 Moscow, at Sokolniki Exhibition Center on December 05, 2015, in Moscow, Russia.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This picture taken on November 19, 2015 shows bottles of concentrated flavors displayed at a vape shop in Kuala Lumpur. Vaping' is soaring in popularity in Malaysia, the largest e-cigarette market in the Asia-Pacific region, but authorities are threatening to ban the habit in for health reasons -- a move that has sparked anger from growing legions of aficionados.

(MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A man smokes an E-Cigarette in the Vape Lab coffee bar, on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

This picture taken on November 19, 2015 shows a worker (R) inspecting a coil, the metal heating element in an e-cigarette that produces vapour from e-juices, at a vape shop in Kuala Lumpur. Vaping' is soaring in popularity in Malaysia, the largest e-cigarette market in the Asia-Pacific region, but authorities are threatening to ban the habit in for health reasons -- a move that has sparked anger from growing legions of aficionados.

(MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman smokes an electronic cigarette during the Vapexpo 2015 Moscow, at Sokolniki Exhibition Center on December 05, 2015, in Moscow, Russia.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A customer smokes an E-Cigarette at Digital Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

E-Cigarettes are sold at the V-Revolution E-Cigarette shop in Covent Garden on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In this photo illustration, a man smokes an E-Cigarette at the V-Revolution E-Cigarette shop in Covent Garden on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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"Our study adds to existing evidence showing that e-cigarettes and NRT are far safer than smoking, and suggests that there is a very low risk associated with their long-term use," said Lion Shahab, a specialist in epidemiology and public health at University College London who led the work.

E-cigarettes, which heat nicotine-laced liquid into vapor, have grown into an $8 billion-a-year market, according to Euromonitor International - more than three times that of NRT products. They are, however, still dwarfed by a tobacco market estimated by Euromonitor to be worth around $700 billion.

Many health experts think e-cigarettes, or vapes, which do not contain tobacco, are a lower-risk alternative to smoking and potentially a major public health tool.

But some question their long-term safety and worry that they may act as a "gateway" to taking up conventional cigarettes. The U.S. surgeon general in December urged lawmakers to impose price and tax policies that would discourage their use.

Monday's study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed saliva and urine samples from long-term e-cigarette and NRT users as well as smokers, and compared levels of key chemicals found in their bodies.

It found that smokers who switched completely to e-cigarettes or NRT had significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens compared to people who continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes.

Those who used e-cigarettes or NRT but did not completely quit smoking did not show the same drop in toxin levels. This underlined that a complete switch was needed to get the long-term health benefits of quitting tobacco, the researchers said.

The World Health Organization says tobacco is the world's biggest preventable killer, with a predicted cumulative death toll of a billion by the end of this century if current trends continue. Tobacco smoking currently kills around 6 million people a year.

Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at the government authority Public Health England, said the findings held a clear message for tobacco smokers.

"Switching to e-cigarettes can significantly reduce harm to smokers, with greatly reduced exposure to carcinogens and toxins," he said in a statement. "The findings also make clear that the benefit is only realized if people stop smoking completely and make a total switch.

"The best thing a smoker can do, for themselves and those around them, is to quit now, completely and forever." ($1 = 0.8047 pounds) (Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


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