Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Researcher Tells Public There is No Evidence that Secondhand Smoke Exposure is Any Worse than Electronic Cigarette Vapor

In an interview published by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, one of the co-authors of a commentary urging physicians to counsel their patients against the use of electronic cigarettes as a tool for smoking cessation tells the public that there is no evidence that electronic cigarette vapor is any safer than exposure to secondhand smoke from regular cigarettes.

The researcher also tells the public that there is no evidence that the use of electronic cigarettes is any safer than cigarette smoking.

After noting that some electronic cigarette companies are using marketing terms which suggest that their products are safer than cigarettes to both users and nonusers, the researcher states: "There isn’t empirical data to suggest that that’s true."

Of course, what the researcher is therefore telling the public is that there is no evidence that smoking is any more hazardous than inhaling the trace levels of carcinogens in electronic cigarettes.

He is also telling the public that there is no evidence that secondhand smoke exposure is any more hazardous than exposure to the vapor from electronic cigarette use.

I have already argued that the advice to physicians to counsel their smoking patients not to quit smoking using electronic cigarettes is irresponsible and misguided. In instructing patients or smokers in general not to use electronic cigarettes, what these researchers are saying is that they would rather smokers continue to smoke cigarettes than to quit smoking via the help of electronic cigarettes.

The reality is that the majority of smokers are not going to be able to quit smoking using traditional therapy (i.e., pharmaceutical aids). For this overwhelming majority of smokers, the study authors are saying: "Don't try electronic cigarettes. We don't know what they are. Stick with the real ones. Don't put down your Marlboros, Camels, and Newports."

The Rest of the Story

Now, the story expands. Not only are these researchers providing misguided and irresponsible advice, but they are now misleading the public by suggesting that there is no evidence that smoking is any more harmful than vaping or that secondhand smoke is any more dangerous than exposure to exhaled electronic cigarette vapor.

These are dangerous and misleading statements. They imply that smoking is not all that hazardous, since if it is no worse than electronic cigarette use, it involves only exposure to minute levels of carcinogens (as has been documented to be the case with electronic cigarettes). And it implies that secondhand smoke exposure is not hazardous at all, since there is no evidence whatsoever that being in the presence of an e-cigarette user is harmful.

The researcher acknowledges that only trace levels of carcinogens were found in electronic cigarettes. He also acknowledges that the propylene glycol used in electronic cigarettes is not worrisome. How, then, can he go on to state that there is no evidence that electronic cigarettes are any safer than what we already know is the most dangerous and toxic consumer product on the market, which we know kills hundreds of thousands of Americans each year?

It is even less rational to suggest that secondhand smoke exposure is no worse than exposure to the greatly diluted, exhaled vapor from e-cigarette users. We know that the quantities of carcinogens delivered to the nonuser are miniscule.

It doesn't take a rocket toxicologist to figure out that the current data on the levels of carcinogens in cigarettes versus electronic cigarettes does provide strong evidence that vaping is less hazardous than smoking, and that exposure to the vapor exhaled by e-cigarette users is less hazardous than exposure to secondhand smoke.

In fact, I have estimated that the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines in electronic cigarettes is about 1400 times lower than that in Marlboros. In light of these data, how can one possibly argue that there is no evidence that smoking Marlboros is any more dangerous than using an electronic cigarette?

It is problematic enough to disseminate irresponsible advice to the public about such an important a health issue as quitting smoking. But to base that advice on blatant misrepresentations of the available scientific data to the public is even worse.

Why are these researchers ignoring the available data which clearly show that the levels of carcinogens in electronic cigarettes are orders of magnitude lower than in regular cigarettes?

Unfortunately, there appears to be a very strong bias operating which does not allow anti-smoking researchers to objectively view the scientific evidence on electronic cigarettes. I believe that the very fact that these devices are similar to cigarettes blinds many anti-smoking researchers to the actual scientific evidence that is readily available. It is apparently not the documented hazards of vaping which are troubling the anti-smoking movement, but the fact that it looks like smoking.

How can anything which looks like smoking be a good thing, even if there is strong evidence that these products are bringing immense and immediate health benefits to thousands of users?

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