Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Medical Oncologist Claims that Smoking May Be Less Hazardous than Using Electronic Cigarettes

A medical oncologist at the Palm Beach Cancer Institute has publicly claimed that smoking may be less hazardous than using electronic cigarettes, according to an article on the ABC Action News web site.

A physician spokesman for the local American Lung Association was quoted in the same article as declaring that we have no idea what chemicals are present in electronic cigarettes.

According to the article: "Touted as a safer alternative to traditional smoking, electronic cigarettes are supposed to give smokers their nicotine fix without the cancer-causing side effects of tobacco. But some have serious concerns that the battery-operated vaping devices may actually pose more dangers to users. ... Dr. Mike Feinstein, a spokesman for the American Lung Association said, 'People are inhaling some type of chemical vaporized compound into their lungs without really knowing what's in it.' Last year, The American Lung Association issued its own warning about e-cigarettes. 'This is a buyer stay away, a buyer health hazard, potentially.'"

"Doctor Robert Greene treats lung cancer patients at the Palm Beach Cancer Institute and said the product is potentially a health hazard. 'There really is no information about whether they're safe or not, and that's part of the problem.' He says with no real data on e-cigarettes, the three-year-old tobacco alternative may actually be more harmful that traditional cigarettes. 'The doses of nicotine that you get could conceivably be higher than what you would get in a typical cigarette.'"

The Rest of the Story

It is ludicrous to suggest that electronic cigarettes may be more hazardous than tobacco cigarettes. Tobacco cigarettes deliver tobacco smoke with more than 10,000 chemicals, including more than 60 carcinogens, and cause more than 400,000 deaths annually in the United States. In contrast, electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco, involve no combustion, produce no tobacco smoke, and have not been documented to cause any adverse health effects, despite their use by approximately 2.5 million people in the U.S.

Moreover, electronic cigarettes have been tested for carcinogens and have been found to contain more than one thousand times lower concentrations of tobacco-specific nitrosamines than regular cigarettes. They have also been extensively tested in the laboratory to identify the chemicals they contain and no other carcinogens have been detected. Thus, it seems beyond dispute that electronic cigarettes are much less hazardous than tobacco cigarettes in terms of cancer risk.

In fact, we know a lot more about the chemicals in electronic cigarettes than in tobacco cigarettes. While as many as 94% of the chemicals in tobacco smoke are unknown, the chemicals in multiple brands of electronic cigarettes have been identified using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. So far, no chemicals of major concern have been identified at levels that would pose a substantial threat to health (other than the nicotine itself). The only real concern is the potential effect of the long-term inhalation of propylene glycol, but two initial animal studies have documented no health risks.

Furthermore, literally hundreds of thousands of Americans are using electronic cigarettes successfully to quit smoking or cut down significantly on the amount that they smoke, and despite four years of use, no serious adverse effects have been reported.

Given what he surely knows about the cancer risks of active tobacco smoking, it is mind-boggling that a medical oncologist would claim that smoking may be healthier than inhaling vapor from tobacco-free e-cigarettes that primarily deliver just nicotine, glycerin, and propylene glycol to the user, and with documented carcinogen levels (tobacco-specific nitrosamines) that are more than one thousand times lower than in tobacco cigarettes.

It is also surprising that a physician with the American Lung Association would falsely claim that we have no idea what is in electronic cigarettes, given the existence of at least 18 studies which have categorized the chemical constituents of e-cigarettes using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.

That these individuals made these uninformed or ill-informed statements publicly I find to be irresponsible, because it misleads probably thousands of people about the relative health effects of smoking compared to vaping.

Would these physicians rather see hundreds of thousands of current e-cigarette users return to cigarette smoking because they believe that returning to cigarette smoking may be safer than continuing to stay smoke-free with the help of tobacco-free, electronic cigarettes?

This is perhaps the worst medical advice I have ever witnessed being delivered.

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