We know how you feel. You pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV, check into Facebook…you know what’s lurking just ahead. Stories designed to scare everyone about vaping. Every day it’s something new. A couple weeks ago, we looked at the most common lies and exaggerations about vaping that the news media spread. But how do you respond? You know, like when you get the dreaded e-mail from your aunt with a link to something in the Huffington Post.
It’s up to us to start changing the public perceptions of vaping.
You need ammunition to fight back. Most of those stories are based on a single, poorly done study that proves nothing. What if you had serious, robust studies about every anti-vaping talking point that you could use to answer Aunt Ruth? We’ve got you covered! Here are some common topics seen in bad news stories on vaping, and a study that addresses and refutes each one. At the end is a group of literature reviews that answer all kinds of questions, and make perfect links to include in e-mails to legislators and local council members.
The results of 9 vaping studies
#1 – Secondhand vapor is not dangerous
Drexel University’s Igor Burstyn, a toxicology expert, concluded that there is no risk to bystanders breathing vapor. This study was crowd-funded by vapers through CASAA. “Exposures of bystanders are likely to be orders of magnitude less, and thus pose no apparent concern,” wrote Burstyn. Peering through the mist: systematic review of what the chemistry of contaminants in electronic cigarettes tells us about health risks – Igor Burstyn
#2 – Vaping can improve lung function for smokers
There are several studies that find no harmful effects of vaping on the lungs. One of the most impressive is Dr. Polosa’s discovery that in asthmatic smokers, switching to vaping — or even just using vaping to reduce smoking — improved lung function. “The e-cig may help smokers with asthma to reduce their cigarette consumption or remain abstinent and hence reduce the burden of smoking-related asthma symptoms,” wrote Polosa. “The positive findings observed with e-cigs allows us to advance the hypothesis that these products may be valuable for smoking cessation and/or tobacco harm reduction also in asthma patients who smoke.” Effect of Smoking Abstinence and Reduction in Asthmatic Smokers Switching to Electronic Cigarettes: Evidence for Harm Reversal – Riccardo Polosa, et al
#3 – Nicotine alone is not powerfully addicitve
Nicotine isn’t close in addictiveness to heroin — or cocaine or any of the other drugs non-experts throw around to scare readers. Lots of studies question common beliefs about nicotine’s addictiveness. French expert Dr. Etter found vaping far less addictive than smoking. “Some e-cigarette users were dependent on nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, but these products were less addictive than tobacco cigarettes,” Etter and Eissenberg said. “E-cigarettes may be as or less addictive than nicotine gums, which themselves are not very addictive.” Dependence levels in users of electronic cigarettes, nicotine gums and tobacco cigarettes – Jean-Francois Etter and Thomas Eissenberg
#4 – E-cigarettes are not full of formaldehyde
After the infamous letter to the New England Journal of Medicine claiming high formaldehyde in vapor, Dr. Farsalinos did experiments to show that formaldehyde is only produced when an atomizer is overheated and the user gets a horrible dry hit. “Electronic cigarettes produce high levels of aldehyde only in dry puff conditions, in which the liquid overheats, causing a strong unpleasant taste that e-cigarette users detect and avoid,” explained the scientists.. “Under normal vaping conditions aldehyde emissions are minimal, even in new-generation high-power e-cigarettes.” E-cigarettes generate high levels of aldehydes only in ‘dry puff’ conditions – Konstantinos Farsalinos, Vassilis Voudris, and Konstantinos Poulas
#5 – Sweet vape flavors are not aimed at children
Every vaper has heard the maddening claim that candy and fruit flavors are aimed at children. We know that adult vapers use flavors to get away from the experience of burning tobacco. We know it because we’ve all experienced it! “Among vapor store customers in the United States who use electronic nicotine delivery devices to stop smoking, vaping longer, using newer-generation devices and using non-tobacco and non-menthol flavored e-liquid appear to be associated with higher rates of smoking cessation,” wrote the authors. Biochemically verified smoking cessation and vaping beliefs among vape store customers – Alayna Tackett, et al
#6 – Vaping is substantially lower in toxins than smoking
Hey, there’s a study every week that shows something in vapor. But many studies — including this one from Dr. Goniewicz and others — have proven that the toxicants are at far, far lower levels than those found in smoke. “After switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes, nicotine exposure remains unchanged, while exposure to selected carcinogens and toxicants is substantially reduced,” the authors wrote. Exposure to Nicotine and Selected Toxicants in Cigarette Smokers Who Switched to Electronic Cigarettes: A Longitudinal Within-Subjects Observational Study – Maciej Goniewicz, et al
#7 – Vaping can help people quit smoking
There have been junk studies claiming that vaping actually reduces the number of smokers who quit. Wrong, says this study from a group of top-notch British cessation experts. They also show that vapers are more likely than those who use other methods to not relapse. “Among smokers who have attempted to stop without professional support, those who use e-cigarettes are more likely to report continued abstinence than those who used a licensed NRT product bought over-the-counter or no aid to cessation,” write the authors. Real-world effectiveness of e-cigarettes when used to aid smoking cessation: a cross-sectional population study – Jamie Brown, et al
#8 – Vaping is not a gateway to smoking
The gateway claim is the ugliest claim about vaping, and every study that purports to show a gateway turns out to have major faults in methodology or a tiny sample size, as Clive Bates explained in his great blog about gateway claims. These highly respected tobacco researchers found no evidence of a gateway, and even implore their colleagues to make room for vaping as a tool to prevent smoking. “While research exists to support either side of the argument, we conclude, currently, that youth use of e-cigarettes is unlikely to increase the ranks of future cigarette smokers,” said Kozlowski and Warner. “Is it possible we could have our cake and eat it too? Perhaps, especially if sensible comprehensive harm reduction policies can earn a place in modern tobacco control efforts.” Adolescents and e-cigarettes: Objects of concern may appear larger than they are – Lynn Kozlowski and Kenneth Warner
#9 – Vaping is NOT as bad as smoking
According to this systematic literature review — a broad look at a large group of existing studies — smokers would benefit from switching to vaping. Farsalinos and Polosa concluded, “Currently available evidence indicates that electronic cigarettes are by far a less harmful alternative to smoking and significant health benefits are expected in smokers who switch from tobacco to electronic cigarettes.” Safety evaluation and risk assessment of electronic cigarettes as tobacco cigarette substitutes: a systematic review – Konstantinos Farsalinos and Riccardo Polosa
What can we use to talk to doctors or legislators? Literature reviews!
When it comes to convincing experts (or, in the case of politicians, “experts”), you’ll want to bring out the big guns. Vapers have a variety of major literature reviews that look at lots of evidence and conclude that vaping is much safer than smoking. Here are some of the best:
Public Health England E-cigarettes: an evidence update
The Royal College of Physicians Nicotine without smoke: Tobacco harm reduction
Cochrane Review Tobacco Addiction Group Can electronic cigarettes help people stop smoking, and are they safe to use for this purpose?
National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training Electronic cigarettes: A briefing for stop smoking services
Clive Bates, Eli Lehrer, and David Sweanor Reshaping American Tobacco Policy: Eight federal strategies to fight smoking and ignite a public health revolution
Keep spreading the real facts
Use these resources for education. Most people simply don’t know much (or anything) about vaping! All they know is what they see in the popular press, and on television and social media. It’s not their fault. We can’t expect everyone to be an expert of everything. But we need to gain their support. It’s up to us to start changing the public perceptions of vaping. Can we ever debate the science as well as scientists like Michael Siegel, or argue harm reduction benefits as well as experienced advocates like Clive Bates? No, but we can show people that science is often on our side in arguments about vaping just by keeping some useful studies handy and learning a bit about the science ourselves. Remember that the most important point: even though vaping may have some minor risks, the benefits of quitting smoking are so large they dwarf the potential for harm. No matter what remote dangers appear in small-scale studies with limited samples, vaping is far safer than smoking.