Otago smart e-cigarette study

University of Otago research, backed by a $150,000 grant, aims to help penetrate the haze around electronic cigarette use and shed new light on this hotly-debated topic.

Some claim e-cigarettes are a game-changer that will dramatically cut smoking levels.

Others say e-cigarettes will endanger decades of tobacco control achievements.

A new trial funded by a Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) feasibility study grant will collect real-time data from e-cigarette users over two months using a novel "smart'' e-cigarette to provide new insights.

E-cigarettes do not involve tobacco combustion and so reduce - but not eliminate - exposure to toxins produced by smoked tobacco.

The planned feasibility study tests the acceptability of the smart e-cigarette among users of electronic cigarettes, and explores compliance with an app-based approach to collecting smoked tobacco use data over a two-month period.

HRC chief executive Prof Kath McPherson said e-cigarettes were a topic of "hot debate both here and internationally''.

Research such as this would help provide evidence to determine if e-cigarettes actually helped people stop smoking.

And the outcomes "should be of great interest'' to the many other countries debating e-cigarette policy guidelines, she said.

Researchers said using smart e-cigarettes would allow unprecedented real-time data about e-cigarette usage to be collected, including the frequency and intensity of use.

Microprocessor-controlled vaporisers in the smart e-cigarettes would capture and record users' behaviour on either an Android or iOS device using Bluetooth technology.

Lead researcher Prof Janet Hoek, of the Otago marketing department, said using the smart e-cigarettes would help examine unanswered questions, including whether, and over what timeframe, people moved from smoking tobacco to e-cigarettes.

Prof Hoek said e-cigarettes were generally agreed to be safer than combustible tobacco, but smokers gained substantial risk reductions only if they "switch completely to using e-cigarettes''.

"Our current understanding of the transition between smoking and e-cigarette use is poor.''

Researchers lacked the data needed to assess whether such dual use was a "transitional behaviour that supports smoking cessation, or a sustained behaviour pattern that promotes continued tobacco use'', she said.

This HRC feasibility grant was one of seven announced yesterday by the HRC. Four of the grants, amounting to about $600,000, went to Otago researchers.

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