Boston University scientist to lead team investigating effects of vaping

Researchers at Boston University will study the health effects of e-cigarettes and nicotine on youth and help develop vaping cessation programs after receiving funding from the American Heart Association.

The American Heart Association announced nearly $17 million in grants on April 21 as part of its ENACT: End Nicotine Addiction in Children and Teens research initiative.

Boston University’s work will be led by Dr. Naomi Hamburg, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. Her team will be testing the toxicity of e-cigarettes, measuring the impacts e-cigarettes have on the health of children and teenagers, and working on programming to help young people quit e-cigarettes.

This is the latest in a multipronged, ongoing commitment announced last fall by the American Heart Association to fight the growing epidemic of youth vaping. Research teams Ohio State University and Yale University also received awards.

“E-cigarettes are being marketed as a healthy option to traditional cigarettes, but no one knows if vaping is safe in the long run because e-cigarettes haven’t been around long enough to be studied deeply. Some diseases can take years and even decades to develop, so there is more work needed to fully understand all the dangers,” said American Heart Association volunteer president Dr. Robert A. Harrington, chair of the department of medicine at Stanford University. “There’s certainly plenty of indication they’re harmful for growing minds and bodies because we know e-cigarettes contain nicotine and we know the harmful effects of nicotine, but it’s important we grow that overall body of scientific evidence.”

Harrington said there’s a sense of urgency because, at a time when regular cigarette smoking has reached an all-time low, young people are turning to e-cigarettes at epidemic proportions with nearly one in four high school students reportedly vaping. That’s why these research projects will be high-impact and fast tracked, only two years in length and funded at levels among the highest individual grants awarded in the Association’s history. The initiative is designed to produce turnkey programs to support youth as well as provide clear evidence to inform policy decisions.

The announcement of the research grants comes four months after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s ban on e-cigarette sales ended. Baker had imposed the ban amid a nationwide surge in lung illnesses related to vaping, mostly the use of illicit cannabis products with toxic additives.

In November of 2019, Baker signed sweeping legislation to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, making Massachusetts the first to enact such stringent controls. The law, which takes effect on June 1,  prohibits the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products, including menthol, “to licensed smoking bars where they may only be smoked on-site.” The same restrictions apply to all other flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored chewing tobacco.

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