In a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an NYU researcher told the convention that electronic cigarettes are "just as dangerous to your health as cigarettes."
This claim was not buttressed by any scientific studies or data, merely by "anecdotal evidence." But the abstract fails to reveal exactly what this "anecdotal evidence" is. Moreover, the study itself did not support the contention that electronic cigarettes are as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes. The study merely showed that among mice, in utero exposure to e-cigarette vapor causes reduced sperm counts in juvenile offspring.
The presentation led to damaging media coverage, which went as far as arguing that women who switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes during pregnancy are damaging their unborn babies and that e-cigarettes are worse for a baby's health than tobacco smoke, as well as that e-cigarettes are no safer than smoking even outside of pregnancy.
The NYU professor was quoted as stating: "Are they safer than cigarettes? The answer's not there but they don't appear to be."
The Rest of the Story
The wild extrapolations being made from this study, as well as the claim that vaping is no safer than smoking, are extremely damaging to the public's health. In fact, the Daily Mail article insinuates that switching from smoking to vaping is what may harm a fetus, rather than exposing a fetus to tobacco smoke in the first place. The inaccurate claim that smoking is no more hazardous than vaping completely undermines the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking and unfortunately, will convince many former smokers who quit using vaping products to return to smoking.
It is absolutely the case that pregnant women should not use electronic cigarettes. They should not use any nicotine-containing product, whether it be tobacco cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, or smokeless tobacco. But can we not get that message across without lying to the public? Do we have to inaccurately portray vaping as more harmful than smoking in order to convince women not to use e-cigarettes during pregnancy? Why is not enough to tell women the simple truth?
We must also recognize the reality that many women have severe trouble quitting smoking during pregnancy. By scaring them into thinking that e-cigarettes are just as hazardous or worse, we may actually be "encouraging" these women to continue smoking. This is damaging not only because this is untrue, but because it may deprive them of an opportunity to quit smoking. If a woman can quit smoking during pregnancy, there is a better chance that she will be able to stay off of cigarettes after pregnancy. This is a huge potential public health benefit that may be squandered by lying to women and telling them that it is by switching to e-cigarettes that they may cause greater harm to the fetus.
The fact is that nicotine delivery is much lower in vaping than smoking. If a woman had to make a choice between vaping and smoking during pregnancy (and obviously, women should not choose either one), vaping would appear to be the better option. Why expose the fetus to higher levels of nicotine and to thousands of other chemicals and scores of carcinogens as a preference over just exposing the fetus to lower levels of nicotine and a few chemicals at lower levels than are present in cigarette smoke? This makes no sense, but it is exactly what many pregnant women are going to do because of this damaging and inaccurate communication to the public.