A popular anti-vaping study was blasted by renowned tobacco control experts for being “fraught with methodological flaws”
Earlier this year, a study claiming to show a serious danger to popular e-cigarettes made it around the popular news outlets. The study in question claimed to find extremely high levels of toxic materials in e-liquid and vapor. Published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the research claimed to be testing vaporizers in “real world conditions.” After checking 56 vapers and their devices, unsafe levels of materials such as lead, arsenic, and others, was reported by the team.
They concluded that the toxic metals were coming from the metallic coils used to heat up e-liquids, especially among those who changed coils more often. The research team from Johns Hopkins felt that this proved current coils are actively leaking toxic metals into e-liquids and vapor. Given the seriousness of their claims, it’s no surprise that the anti-vaping media jumped onto these results and spread them like wildfire. Only one problem, many independent and respected academics feel the study in question was so poorly designed that it’s entirely unreliable.
One of the first to publicly call into question the results of the John Hopkins study was none other than world famous tobacco control expert, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos. People know Dr. Farsalinos best for his replication studies that attempt to recreate the seemingly fantastical results of anti-vaping research. Last fall he published two of these replication studies, which go into full detail and try to copy the same set of variables. Unfortunately, his replication on the John Hopkins study isn’t yet complete, but he still took to his personal Facebook page to note some relevant contextual information.
To truly understand the findings, you must first have the necessary information of what’s normal. After all, dihydrogen monoxide can sound scary if you don’t already know that it’s just another name for plain water. Dr. Farsalinos explains why context is essential in this case. “Significant amount’ of metals the authors reported they found were measured in ug/kg. In fact, they are so low that for some cases (chromium and lead) I calculated that you need to vape more than 100 ml per day in order to exceed the FDA limits for daily intake from inhalational medications.” So essentially for the results to be even approaching as scary as they seem, you’d have to be breathing nothing but vapor all day. Under this light, the worrisome results fall apart.
It’s not just Dr. Farsalinos who’s calling this study into question either. The Chief Scientific Officer at Eosscientific, Dr. David Dawit, has also blasted the report, calling it “fraught with methodological flaws.” It’s worth noting that Eosscientific is an e-liquid maker, which calls into question bias, but few people on the planet are better versed in the science of e-liquids than Dr. Dawit. Both doctors agree that the Johns Hopkins study is very misleading given they don’t explain how much you’d have to vape to be exposed to harmful levels of substances. Dr. Dawit takes it another step and questions if the researchers omitted these critical pieces of information purposefully. This includes information such as what devices were used, that would make replication studies much more viable.
It seems that all it takes for the mainstream media to condemn vaping as a colossal health epidemic is one poorly designed study. This is likely why so few people seem to understand that vaping is much safer than smoking. Polls show that only around 13% of the general population understands the harm reduction value of e-cigarettes, while over 25% think that vaping is just as bad, if not worse than smoking. This even though we have a growing mountain of evidence that proves e-cigarettes are not only an excellent harm reduction tool, but one of the best smoking cessation devices we have at our disposal.
We’ve known since at least 2015 thanks to Public Health England that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking. The federal health agency believes vaping is a significant key to fighting the smoking epidemic. Just last fall a study published in the Journal of Aerosol Science concluded that the lifetime excess cancer risk of a vaper is around 57,000 times lower than a demographically similar smoker.
We also have evidence proving the extreme smoking cessation value of e-cigarettes as well. Likely the most important of these reports is one conducted by researchers out of the University of Louisville that tested the effectiveness of several different smoking cessation methods and tools. After gathering all the data, some clear results were noted. Vaping was able to outperform all other methods tested, including prescription quit aids like Chantix.
It’s sad that just one poorly designed study can lead to so much turmoil among the general public. This is especially true when we have so much well designed and peer-reviewed research that indicates vaping is a valuable harm reduction and smoking cessation tool. But likely the worst part of this is that the media will spread wrong studies like this one, just because it is more interesting than studies that indicate the safety of vaping. If we want to end the smoking epidemic once and for all, we must stay focused on saving lives, and not selling the most papers. This public health crisis is only being made worse by legislators and journalists that opt for an easy target. The truth is that vaping is the single best smoking cessation tool we currently have, so we must be working to support, not undermine it.
Have you seen the toxic metal study in question? Do you agree that it’s easier to sell negative stories? How can we best educate the public about the harm reduction and smoking cessation value of vaping? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.