TAMPA — Vapers everywhere could soon learn whether their preferred method of smoking actually is better for their health.
The Moffitt Cancer Center has received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the use of electronic cigarettes. The study will last five years and will focus on two topics — the safety of e-cigarettes for users, and how effective they are as a tool to quit smoking.
Dr. Thomas Brandon, director of Moffitt's Tobacco Research and Intervention Program, said electronic cigarettes are increasingly popular, but not much is known about them. Scientists, he said, are playing catchup.
"Industry is very quick to gear up and market new products," Brandon said, "but research takes longer."
E-cigarettes are a more controllable version of the original product. Consumers can customize their e-cigs, changing color, design and the amount of nicotine in the vaporizer's juice. This function allows smokers to reduce the amount of nicotine in their cigarettes over time until they no longer feel the urge to smoke.
Brandon said this sort of use is common.
"Most people who use them say they use them to stop smoking," he said.
But unlike nicotine patches or drugs produced specifically to help users quit smoking, e-cigarettes are not licensed by the Food and Drug Administration for this purpose. This means companies can't market them as cures.
Martin Callery, 31, made the switch to e-cigarettes three months ago to try to eliminate his tobacco habit. The Tampa native started smoking when he was 15. After losing his mother to heart disease — an illness he attributes to smoking — Callery decided a change was needed.
Since switching, he said, he has tapered his consumption down from juice with 24 milligrams of nicotine to juice with 18 mg.
Eventually, he said, he plans to ween himself off e-cigarettes completely. His only concern is how e-cigs might affect his health in the long run.
"No one knows long term what the health effects are," Callery said.
Adam Lake, 35, of Port Charlotte said he had similar concerns about the product, but figured e-cigarettes couldn't be worse than regular cigarettes.
"At the end of the day, you're putting more chemicals into your body," Lake said.
To conduct the study, Brandon is interested in three groups — those who smoke both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes, those who made the switch to e-cigarettes and quit smoking regular cigarettes, and those who quit smoking both.
Brandon isn't sure how e-cigarettes will compare to other products aimed at smoking cessation, but said he expects to find that people quit smoking with them.
"We're pretty sure they're less dangerous," Brandon said of the e-cigarettes, "we're just not sure how much less dangerous."
Electronic cigarette users interested in being interviewed for the study should call Moffitt's Tobacco Research and Intervention Program toll-free at 1-877-954-2548.
Contact Shaker Samman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3394. Follow @shakersamman.