We've all heard of vaping. And most of us have heard of secondhand vaping (being exposed to air in a room where others are vaping). Now, a tobacco control researcher and member of TPSAC (the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee) is warning the public of the dangers of thirdhand vaping (touching a chair in a room where vaping has occurred).
According to Dr. Jonathan Samet, who is director of the USC Institute for Global Health and a member of TPSAC, touching a chair in a room where vaping has occurred could be a health hazard, as the nicotine in exhaled air from a vaper could contaminate the chair and the nicotine could then be absorbed through the skin if someone touches the chair.
According to an article in the Pasadena Star-News, Dr. Samet was quoted as stating: "There have been two reasons to handle e-cigs the same as combustible
products. People would be exposed to the nicotine in the
air, so the vapor could settle on people. It could contaminate the air
that they breathe. It could contaminate a chair, and they could touch it
and nicotine can go through the skin."
The Rest of the Story
This is the sort of hysterical nonsense that now passes for science in the tobacco control movement.
Dr. Samet was a senior editor of the Surgeon General's report. And now he is telling the public that they could be harmed by absorbing nicotine from a chair located in a room where vaping has occurred.
Based on the most conservative (i.e., the highest) existing estimates of the level of nicotine produced by vaping, the amount of nicotine inhaled by a bystander after 8 straight hours of exposure to a full room of vapers in a bar is only 0.08 cigarette equivalents. In order to inhale the equivalent amount of nicotine that would be
inhaled by actively smoking one cigarette, a bystander would have to
spend 12 days in a bar filled with e-cigarette vapor, at continuous
Despite these data, Dr. Samet would have us believe that nicotine exposure levels due to secondhand vaping are high enough to cause substantial enough contamination of chairs so that a mere human touch of the chair could result in hazardous nicotine absorption.
This is ludicrous. There is simply no way that touching a chair in a room where vaping is occurring poses a substantial health risk.
But here's the problem: if we can't trust someone like Dr. Samet to make credible statements regarding the health risks of thirdhand vaping, how can we trust statements he makes about other important tobacco-related health risks? How can we trust the Surgeon General's reports that he oversees? How can we trust the scientific judgment of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee?
While as a scientist, I can discriminate carefully between this hysterical and ludicrous pronouncement by Dr. Samet about the danger of touching a chair and the well-established conclusions that he put out in the 2006 Surgeon General's report, it is much less straightforward for the general public to make such judgments. This example of shoddy science unfortunately contaminates all of our scientific pronouncements and risks undermining our credibility.
With more than 400,000 Americans dying each year from smoking, Dr. Samet is actually worrying about the possibility that some Americans might touch a chair? Is this what the science in the tobacco control movement has come to?