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NIH launches e-cigarette research

July 16, 2015

By Craig Palmer

Bethesda, Md. — Citing “an urgent need” to inform public policy, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research is accepting applications through July 28 for research on the possible effects on oral health of aerosol mixtures produced by electronic cigarettes.

“NIDCR joins new area of biomedical research: electronic cigarette health effects,” said the headline on the e-newsletter announcement.

There is limited scientific evidence to support the safety of e-cigarettes and an urgent need to determine the biological and physiological effects of the chemical mixtures in ECs for generating foundational evidence that could guide public health policies, said the NIDCR, one of the National Institutes of Health and the major funding source for dental and oral health research.

Health professionals have been receiving an increasing number of queries from patients about the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes, the NIDCR said. Recent estimates suggest a 40-50 percent increase in the U.S. market in 2014 for “vapor devices” such as ECs that translates to $2.5-3 billion. With significant further growth predicted, EC sales are expected to surpass the sales of conventional tobacco smoking cigarettes.

But little is known about the effects of EC aerosol mixtures on cells, tissues and organs of the oral cavity, said one of two NIDCR funding opportunity announcements inviting applications for research that could start as early as February 2016.

“Research supported by this FOA would provide essential and necessary information on the biological effects of ECs that would in turn lead to evidence based foundational information for health policy decisions,” the NIDCR said. Studies should focus on effects from ECs alone and not the effects of the non-vaporized or liquid form of nicotine solution present in ECs.

“To date, there have been no systematic studies focused on analysis of the synergistic effects of chemical mixtures, as opposed to effects of individual components, generated by ECs on human cells or tissues,” the funding notices said. “Thus, there is a need to know the effects of long-term exposure to the chemical mixtures generated by ECs. Tissues exposed to high concentrations of EC aerosol mixtures include oral and periodontal epithelial cells, airway epithelium and lung tissues. The expected results from this funding opportunity will provide important and much needed preliminary data on the effects of ECs on human health.”

ECs, also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems or ENDS, are battery powered devices with a metal heating element that vaporizes a solution containing a mixture of chemicals including nicotine and other additives and flavoring agents.

“On the one hand, ECs are promoted as safe alternatives to combustible tobacco products or as aides to tobacco cessation,” the NIDCR said. “On the other hand, increasing use among smokers, non-smokers, including adolescents, presents a trend that may pose a public health concern.”