(See: Riker CA, Lee K, Darville A, Hahn EJ. E-cigarettes: Promise or peril? Nursing Clinics of North
America 2012; 47:159-171.)
In their review article regarding electronic cigarettes, these authors assert that despite the fact that electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco and involve no combustion, produce no smoke, and do not contain most of the tens of thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke, there is no scientific basis to claim that tobacco cigarettes are any more harmful than electronic ones.
The article states that: "no scientific basis currently exists for making claims of ... reduced harm ... for e-cigarettes."
Of course, asserting that there is no scientific basis for making claims that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes is the same as asserting that there is no scientific basis for making claims that cigarettes are any more harmful than e-cigarettes.
The Rest of the Story
It is shocking to me that in 2012, despite all we know about the dangers of cigarettes, despite the fact that more than 400,000 Americans die each year from smoking, despite the fact that cigarettes contain tens of thousands of chemicals, including more than 60 known carcinogens, despite the fact that cigarette smoke itself contains propylene glycol, despite the fact that electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco whatsoever and produce no smoke, and despite the fact that more than 2 million Americans are currently using electronic cigarettes without any reported health effects (other than one battery explosion), these authors could publicly assert to nurses throughout the country that there is no scientific reason to believe that cigarette smoking is any more hazardous than using an electronic cigarette.
It appears to me that an ideology - some sort of entrenched opposition to any behavior that looks like smoking - is intruding upon sound scientific reasoning. How can a device which delivers vaporized nicotine with a few other chemicals (including propylene glycol) and trace levels of carcinogens (TSNAs) possibly be more hazardous than a device that delivers nicotine plus thousands of other chemicals (including propylene glycol) and more than 60 carcinogens (including high levels of TSNAs, about a thousand times higher than in e-cigarettes)?
Can you imagine if any cigarette company made the same claim? We would be mauling them from all sides. How could this cigarette company dare to suggest to the public that smoking is no more hazardous than vaping? Anti-smoking groups would be attacking the company to no end.
That at least one of these authors is losing sound scientific reasoning to ideology is evidenced by an email that she apparently wrote to several colleagues, in which she falsely claimed that Professor Brad Rodu, a harm reduction proponent at the University of Louisville, is on the Board of Directors of U.S. Tobacco. I know Brad, and although he has received research funding from the smokeless tobacco industry, he has never shared with me the information that he served on the Board of Directors of U.S. Tobacco. To write a potentially libelous email like this without first checking to make sure the facts about Dr. Rodu were accurate seems to me to show a sort of ideologic zealotry that is over-riding rigorous scientific and evidence-based, careful reasoning.
The most unfortunate part of this story is that nurses might believe the statement in the article and advise their patients that cigarette smoking is no more hazardous than vaping, which would be terribly misleading advice and could have serious repercussions for patients who might otherwise consider quitting smoking using these devices or staying smoke-free using these devices.
By the way, I have no problem with the authors of this article disagreeing with me about the potential promise or peril of electronic cigarettes. They are entitled to their opinions and debate over the promise or peril of these products is much needed and appropriate. But the debate should be based on some semblance of scientific reasoning and argumentation. To make blind ideological statements like: "There is no scientific basis for claiming that electronic cigarettes are any safer than tobacco cigarettes" does not add anything useful to the debate, and in fact, significantly detracts from it by misleading potentially thousands of health practitioners about the demonstrable scientific facts.