New Study Seeks To Understand If Vaping Can Help Homeless People Quit Smoking New Study Seeks To Understand If Vaping Can Help Homeless People Quit Smoking

Canadian doctor receives $100,000 grant to set up clinical trial testing the efficacy of e-cigarettes among the homeless

Earlier this year a Canadian respirologist named Dr. Smita Pakhale received a $100,000 grant to study the effect of vaping on homeless populations. The money was awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which is the federal institution charged with funding medical research in Canada. Smoking is a massive problem for homeless and marginalized populations across the world, and this is especially true in Ottawa, where a 2013 study of nearly 1000 participants found that an insane 96% of them currently smoked cigarettes.

According to Dr. Pakhale’s proposal, the study will include 200 homeless people from Ottawa and Toronto. To ensure the most usable results, testing will be randomized and have two separate research arms. The first group is to receive regularly sanctioned smoking cessation tools, such as nicotine patches and gum. The second group will be given e-cigarettes to not only supply nicotine but also mimic the feeling of smoking. Both teams will also be given access to nursing care and peer support so they can stay safe, as well as give the most detailed information possible.

Desperately Needed Research

Dr. Pakhale is optimistic about the prospects of her study. “We’re trying to understand if e-cigarettes can be in our toolbox since they have some features that could be attractive: They can deliver calculated doses of nicotine in an inhaled fashion and, secondly, they can give smokers that hand-to-mouth gesture that they crave,” said the doctor. She believes this sort of research is all the more critical since the majority of people who smoke today tend to be part of marginalized groups, and few groups are as marginalized as the homeless. In fact, an Ottawa Public Health study found that only 9% of the general population in Ottawa smokes, compared with the horrendous 96% observed in the 2013 study.

Not only that, but studies show that even in the most marginalized groups, such as the homeless, the majority of people would like to quit but they are less able to get the support or tools needed to make a successful switch. According to Dr. Pakhale, many people don’t realize that smoking can be as impactful of an issue on the homeless as housing and mental health since it adversely affects the health of every part of the body. She believes that smoking needs to be treated as a chronic disease among homeless populations.

The Bridge Center

While the researchers are quick to acknowledge that no matter what they find the problem will still not be fully understood, Dr. Pakhale does believe that this is a critical first step in improving the health of marginalized populations that are particularly affected by smoking. Her trial will be based out of a community center, and research facility called The Bridge, where she works as the director. They’ve already had success doing similar studies out of this center. A 2016 study showed that a majority of marginalized smokers were able to successfully reduce or stop their smoking by being given access to traditional nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches and gum. This was especially true when supplemented with peer support groups and medical counseling.

The trial, which is currently seeking approval from an ethics board, merely wants to indicate if vaping can work for marginalized populations the same way they have been shown effective for the general public. Dr. Pakhale acknowledges that many homeless people may not be able to afford e-cigarettes consistently so they will be provided for free. While the question of accessibility is important, Dr. Pakhale and her team are currently only interested in proving that homeless people can successfully use vaping to quit smoking. Questions about how to provide them should come after understanding their effectiveness.


It’s crucial that we work to understand how vaping affects groups of people often overlooked. Just like with individuals with mental health issues, homeless people are at a much higher risk of smoking and therefore smoking-related diseases. This also means that they are invaluable sources of information, and studies like this are helping shed light on the true efficacy of vaping. Dr. Pakhale, who is originally from India, has worked her whole career to understand better the inequity that plagues much of the world. But even she admits that no matter what studies such as hers find, the real key to change is changing the behaviors and beliefs of the public.

Do you think understanding e-cigarette’s effect on homeless people will help us better understand vaping in general? What do you think is an essential part of vaping being a successful smoking cessation tool? Should e-cigarettes be supplied to marginalized populations to help them reduce their insanely high smoking rates? Let us know in the comments


Katie Bercham - CocktailNerd Editor

Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 5 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community.