Introduction: Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are purported to deliver nicotine aerosol without any toxic combustion products present in tobacco smoke. In this longitudinal within-subjects observational study, we evaluated the effects of e-cigarettes on nicotine delivery and exposure to selected carcinogens and toxicants.
Methods: We measured seven nicotine metabolites and 17 tobacco smoke exposure biomarkers in the urine samples of 20 smokers collected before and after switching to pen-style M201 e-cigarettes for 2 weeks. Biomarkers were metabolites of 13 major carcinogens and toxicants in cigarette smoke: one tobacco-specific nitrosamine (NNK), eight volatile organic compounds (1,3-butadiene, crotonaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, acrylamide, acrylonitrile, ethylene oxide, and propylene oxide), and four polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (naphthalene, fluorene, phenanthrene, and pyrene). Changes in urine biomarkers concentration were tested using repeated measures analysis of variance.
Results: In total, 45% of participants reported complete abstinence from cigarette smoking at 2 weeks, while 55% reported continued smoking. Levels of total nicotine and some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites did not change after switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes. All other biomarkers significantly decreased after 1 week of using e-cigarettes (p < .05). After 1 week, the greatest percentage reductions in biomarkers levels were observed for metabolites of 1,3-butadiene, benzene, and acrylonitrile. Total NNAL, a metabolite of NNK, declined by 57% and 64% after 1 and 2 weeks, respectively, while 3-hydroxyfluorene levels declined by 46% at week 1, and 34% at week 2.
Conclusions: After switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes, nicotine exposure remains unchanged, while exposure to selected carcinogens and toxicants is substantially reduced.
Implications: To our knowledge, this is the first study that demonstrates that substituting tobacco cigarettes with an e-cigarette may reduce user exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens otherwise present in tobacco cigarettes. Data on reduced exposure to harmful constituents that are present in tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes can aid in evaluating e-cigarettes as a potential harm reduction device.
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