For those of us who thought that the tobacco control movement's New Year's resolution was to stop distorting and misrepresenting scientific findings, the events of the past week have destroyed that prediction. Far from halting their campaign of deception about electronic cigarettes, anti-vaping researchers have taken that deception to another level.
An article in the January 2016 issue of the journal Oral Oncology reports the results of a laboratory study of the effect on epithelial cell cultures of exposure to tobacco smoke compared to e-cigarette vapor. The study concluded that: "E-cigarette vapor, both with and without nicotine, is cytotoxic to epithelial cell lines and is a DNA strand break-inducing agent."
So far, so good.
But unfortunately, that's where today's story begins, rather than ends.
Instead of reporting the actual findings of the study, the press release which explains the study implications to the media states that the main conclusion of the study was that the use of electronic cigarettes is no safer than smoking.
According to the press release:
"'There haven't been many good lab studies on the effects of these
products [e-cigarettes] on actual human cells,' says Dr. Jessica Wang-Rodriquez, one of
the lead researchers on the new study. She is a professor of pathology
at the University of California, San Diego, and chief of pathology and
laboratory medicine at the San Diego VA. ... Her team created an extract from the vapor of two popular brands of
e-cigarettes and used it to treat human cells in Petri dishes. Compared
with untreated cells, the treated cells were more likely to show DNA
damage and die." ...
"'For now, we were able to at least identify that e-cigarettes on the
whole have something to do with increased cell death,' says
Wang-Rodriguez. 'We hope to identify the individual components that are
contributing to the effect.' She notes that cells in the lab are not completely comparable to
cells within a living person. The cells lines that scientists work with
been "immortalized because of certain cell changes," she says. So it
could be that e-cigarette vapor has different effects than those seen in
the lab. Also, her team didn't seek to mimic the actual dose of vapor that an e-cigarette user would get. 'In this particular study, it was similar to someone smoking
continuously for hours on end, so it's a higher amount than would
normally be delivered,' she says." ...
The overarching question is whether the battery-operated products
are really any safer than the conventional tobacco cigarettes they are
designed to replace. Wang-Rodriquez doesn't think they are.
'Based on the evidence to date,' she says, 'I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.'"
Thus, 2016 began with international news headlines informing the public that e-cigarettes are deadly, cause cancer, and are just as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes.
For example, check out these headlines:
"E-cigarettes are no safer than smoking tobacco, scientists warn."
"E-cigarettes are NO better than regular smoking: Devices can 'cause cancer even when they're nicotine FREE."
"Vaping 'no better' than smoking regular cigarettes."
"E-cigarettes may be 'no better' than regular cigarettes."
The Rest of the Story
I believe it is irresponsible for the researchers who communicated the results of this study to misrepresent its implications by not only suggesting that it demonstrates clinical toxicity and carcinogenicity of vaping, but by bringing the deception to another level by stating that vaping is no better than smoking real cigarettes. Neither of these claims is supported by the evidence from this study or other studies.
This study involved laboratory testing only. The effect of e-cigarette aerosol was examined on cell cultures, which by definition have been altered so that they are unlike actual human cells. The results of studies on cells in laboratory cultures cannot necessarily be extrapolated to clinically meaningful effects in humans.
In fact, this point is readily acknowledged by the study authors. The authors also acknowledge that the dose of e-cigarette aerosol to which the cells were exposed was far above that experienced in real life, which further limits the conclusions that can be drawn about the effects of vaping on actual humans.
Moreover, the study and press release both omit discussion of one of the most important findings from the research: namely, that tobacco smoke was found to have much higher levels of cytotoxicity than e-cigarette aerosol. In fact, the paper reports that while the cell lines were treated for a full week with e-cigarette aerosol, "Because of the high toxicity of cigarette smoke extract,
cigarette-treated samples of each cell line could only be treated for
24 h." To properly compare the cytotoxicity of tobacco smoke and e-cigarette aerosol, the experimenters should have progressively diluted the tobacco smoke to find the lowest dilution at which effects were still observed. Clearly, the most striking finding of the study was that the e-cigarette aerosol had much lower cytotoxicity than the tobacco smoke. But this critical finding is hidden from journal readers, the media, and the public.
Instead, the public is provided with this crap: "[e-cigarettes] are no better than smoking regular cigarettes."
It is difficult for me to explain this story by anything other than a profound bias on the part of the researchers against electronic cigarettes. This is not objective science. Nor is it honest presentation and discussion of study results. Most importantly, it is irresponsible dissemination of misleading and unsupported scientific conclusions to the public.
As I was quoted in an article about this story in the Daily Caller: "To declare that smoking is no more
hazardous than using e-cigarettes, a non-tobacco-containing product is a
false and irresponsible claim. Not only is this conclusion baseless, but it is damaging to the public’s
health. It undermines decades of public education about the severe
hazards of cigarette smoking. This will cause actual human health damage, not merely damage to some cells in a laboratory culture."