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The truth about flavored e-cigarettes focus of $19M study

National Public Radio

What role does flavor play in e-cigarettes? How does it impact our health and our behavior? Those are a couple of the questions researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and University of Rochester Medical Center will be investigating over the next five years thanks to a $19 million federal grant.

There may be a public perception that vaping is safer than traditional cigarettes, but there really isn't much evidence to support that, according to Roswell Park and URMC.

“The perception on the part of the public is that, ‘Oh, I’m just inhaling vaporized water that has some flavorings in them that are safe, because, what’s wrong with peach?’” said URMC lead resesarcher Deborah Ossip. “We really don’t know, for many of these products, what the impacts of aerosolizing them and inhaling them are.”

Credit National Public Radio
Juul e-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people.

Ossip said e-cigarette manufacturers use thousands of combinations of ingredients that make flavors - including menthol, fruits, chocolates, candies and cocktails like piña colada - and those flavors are being marketed successfully to youths.

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in youth uses of these products," she said, "and we know that among kids who are using e-cigarettes, or vapes, or Juuls, 80 percent are using a flavored product.”

"There's evidence on some of these flavorings that are sometimes used in food products that are actually ingested, but we have very little evidence on many of them with regard to inhalation toxicity, and we also have very little evidence around their behaviorial impact," said Roswell Park lead researcher Richard O'Connor. "So are some flavorings, for example, able to promote geater use of vaping products or deeper inhalation, things that might increase exposure to toxics over time."

O'Connor said the primary goal of the results of this National Cancer Institute-funded study will tell us what happens when these flavorings are inhaled repeatedly over long periods of time, through e-cigarettes, water pipes - or hookah - and flavored cigars. There are several main study areas.

Credit Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
Internationally recognized tobacco experts Richard O’Connor, PhD, (left) and Maciej Goniewicz, PhD, PharmD, are leading Roswell Park's research.

"One is studying the toxicity or the toxicology of specific chemical flavorings that are used," O'Connor said, "short- and longterm health effects of different flavorings and combinations of flavors, as well as understanding consumers' intentions to use those products and potentially what woud happen if flavorings were restricted." 

The evidence gathered will be used to inform the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about future regulation.

"What we learn about these flavorings and vaping, nicotene, could potentially apply to vaping marijuana or the application of flavorings compounds to other combusted tobacco products," said O'Connor. "The idea is we're trying to generate an evidence base that can be broadly applied."

Thehe Roswell Park-URMD partnership is one of nine across the country conducting short- and longterm research projects on vaping. They eventually will be looking for hundreds of tobacco and e-cigarette users to participate in the research.

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