A study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine purporting to prove that vaping is more dangerous than smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. The tests showed that using certain electronic cigarettes at high temperature settings could potentially release more formaldehyde – a cancer-causing chemical – than traditional cigarettes.
Whether the research is valid is disputed since it involved limited testing on just one brand of e-cigarettes and was done in test tubes, not on people.
Stephen Hecht, a chemist and tobacco researcher at the University of Minnesota commented:
Under some conditions, e-cigarettes might be generating more formaldehyde than you’d want to be exposed to. But I don’t think we know enough yet. There’s a huge variety in the makeup of these cigarettes and how they are used.
At low voltage, formaldehyde was not detected. But at the high voltage setting, levels of that compound were somewhat higher than the amount of formaldehyde users would get from traditional cigarettes.
The fact is that most people avoid vaping at high voltage because it produces very unpleasant flavors.
The media, always on the lookout for sensational stories, ran scary headlines like “Study: E-Cigarettes Could Be More Deadly Than Regular Cigarettes.”
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera challenged David Peyton, one of the study’s authors. After close questioning, he insisted that the study had been mischaracterized. All it was meant to do, he said, was compare the levels of formaldehyde in e-cigarettes versus cigarettes.
It is exceedingly frustrating to me that we are being associated with saying that e-cigarettes are more dangerous than cigarettes. That is a fact not in evidence.
When he was shown what was posted on Twitter by the New England Journal of Medicine — “Authors project higher cancer risk than smoking” — he sounded horrified. “I didn’t see the tweet,” he said. “I regret that. That is not my opinion.”
Nocera comments that, perhaps next time, they will produce something that doesn’t serve mainly as a scare tactic to keep smokers away from e-cigarettes.
Gregory Conley, a lawyer with the American Vaping Association, criticized the study methods claiming:
They use the device in a manner that no one does. What the researchers did is like leaving a steak on a grill all day – many cancer-causing substances might be formed but no one would eat such charred meat.
So, why is there adverse publicity about questionable research?
The answer may be found in the contents of an editorial published last month in the journal BMC Medicine. It stated:
Although there is no doubt that smokers switching to electronic cigarettes (ecigs) substantially reduce the risk to their health, some tobacco control activists and health organizations discourage smokers from using ecigs and lobby policy makers to reduce ecig use by draconian regulation.
The hostility to ecigs may be related to a moral belief that nicotine use should be eradicated rather than allowed to morph into a relatively harmless activity. If ecigs are allowed to compete with cigarettes and develop further, smoking is likely to all but disappear. Discouraging smokers from making the switch and reducing ecig competitiveness with cigarettes by unwarranted regulation will delay this opportunity or squander it altogether.
The truth is that there is now sufficient evidence to show that smokers who cannot stop smoking with existing treatments – like nicotine patches of chewing gum – should try several types of e-cigarettes to see if they can find one that will satisfy their nicotine craving.
Anti-tobacco activists, by opposing the use of electronic cigarettes, are possibly contributing to the early deaths of the very people they claim they want to help.