MUSC researching effects of e-cigarettes on cigarette smokers

One professor at the Medical University of South Carolina says e-cigarettes could be a curse for kids but a potential blessing for adults.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 5:36 AM EDT|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 12:24 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - One professor at the Medical University of South Carolina says e-cigarettes could be a curse for kids but a potential blessing for adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers if used as a substitute for regular cigarettes. But the agency says they are not safe for the youth, young adults and pregnant women who don’t use tobacco products.

Dr. Tracy Smith, Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychiatry MUSC & Member of the Cancer Control and Prevention Program at Hollings Cancer Center, has been doing research in tobacco regulation for about 12 years now. For the past 5 years, she’s been focusing on non-cigarette tobacco products like e-cigarettes.

Smith says an e-cigarette is substantially less harmful than cigarettes. Levels of carcinogens produced are drastically lower levels for e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes.

Smith says for adults who currently smoke cigarettes, which is the most harmful tobacco product out there, switching to e-cigarettes would drastically reduce their long-term risk even though they’re unsafe for kids.

“So, the question about flavors is even though they’re risky for kids are they potentially healthy for adults who currently smoke regular cigarettes to help get them off those regular cigarettes and using less harmful products,” Smith says.

One of the projects Smith will be doing over the next few years is to recruit 1500 people from around the country to join a research study. The study is a collaboration with Ohio State University. Participants will either have the option to use a variety of different tobacco flavors or non-tobacco flavors. There will also be a control group of people who only have access to tobacco-flavored products. Smith says to qualify you need to be 21, a cigarette smoker, and willing to try an e-cigarette.

“So, we’ll be able to see whether those other fruity, sweet flavors help cigarette smokers switch to e-cigarettes which would reduce their long-term harm and hopefully that provides information to the FDA about the potential benefit of flavored products or not. If they’re not helpful for adult smokers, then they really don’t have a place on the market at all,” Smith says.

The plan is to begin the trial in the fall around November. Find more information on the study by visiting the MUSC website’s research page. The trial is expected to take around four to five years. Participants will be tracked for a six-month period to see if they do switch to e-cigarettes, how much their cigarette smoking has reduced, or if they stop smoking completely.