Health Effects of Vaping vs. Smoking
Welcome to our first Knowledge is Power Blog edition. Today we will be discussing the health effects of vaping vs. smoking, and vaping in public places. There is a lot of information, much of it conflicting about the health effects of vaping and 2nd hand vape. Let’s look at the concerns and what the leading researchers in the field are saying in response.
One of the main things we are being told about e-cigarette use is from the FDA and WHO (World Health Organization). On 8/11/14, the FDA posted on their website*, “E-Cigarettes have not been fully studied so consumers don’t know the potential risks…how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled….whether there are any benefits..” While Armando Peruga, the Programme Manager of the Tobacco Free Initiative with WHO, has stated “Health risks of electronic cigarettes, first, Nicotine is highly addictive….they contain chemicals and usually a few cancer causing agents.” in a YouTube video titled WHO: New WHO report on e-cigarettes. Both the FDA and WHO have also stated there is insignificant evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in the effort to quit smoking.
Independent agencies, however, have conducted non-biased studies regarding the health risks of electronic cigarettes. One study was conducted by Dr.Igor Burstyn, PhD, School of Public Health, Drexel University who published an article Peering Through the Mist: Systematic Review of what the Chemistry of Contaminants in Electronic Cigarettes Tells Us about Health Risks. Summarized, Dr. Burstyn conducted a systematic review of 35 chemical toxicity studies/technical reports of electronic cigarette liquids and vapors. He is quoted in this study stating “[there is] no evidence of levels of contaminants that may be associated with risk to health. This includes acrolein, formaldehyde, TSNAs and metals. Concerns about contamination of the liquid by a non trivial quantity of ethylene glycol or diethylene glycol remains confined to a single sample of an early technology product and has not been replicated.” Meaning, there were no cancer causing agents found outside of one sample from an outdated cigalike. Interestingly enough, these are the same contaminants noted by the FDA in their report and the basis of the WHO claims. So, why are these two findings so vastly different? Dr. Lynne Dawkins, Experimental Psychologist and leader of the Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Research Group at the University of East London has been specializing in smoking research for over 20 years and is one of the UK’s leading authorities on e-cigarettes. She may have answered that question. In a published public lecture titled What We Know So Far she stated “We are looking at a rapidly evolving industry here and randomised controlled trials are very time consuming, so it’s likely that by the time the results are published the device that was used may not currently be available or is not what is currently being used. So the findings become outdated quite quickly.”
After researching, we discovered that the cigalike used in the FDA testing was a 3 piece sold between 2009 and 2010, and is no longer on the market. So we have discovered that the “harmful” chemicals mentioned by the FDA and referenced by WHO were only present in one type of cigalike that is no longer on the market, and according to Dr. Burstyn’s study, the finding of that harmful chemical hasn’t been replicated since.
Another argument posed by the FDA and WHO is that users of e-cigs don’t really know what’s in the vapor, and the effect it would have on non-users with 2nd hand vapor. A test was conducted recently at Queen Mary University in London, overseen by Professor Peter Hayek. A participant’s breath was tested for a baseline carbon monoxide and toxicant levels prior to any smoking or vaping. The participant then vaped an e-cig, and his carbon monoxide and toxicant levels were tested again, and the results were no different than his baseline results prior to smoking. He then smoked an analog cigarette, and no surprise here, his carbon monoxide and toxicant levels went up by 150%. Another experiment was conducted by Maciej Goniewicz, a cancer researcher in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, on the effects of breathing in vapor vs. cigarette smoke on a person in a closed environment. Dr. Goniewicz’s experiment concluded that nicotine levels from e-cigarettes were ten times lower than cigarette smoke. “E-cigarettes also produced some particulate matter, but regular cigarettes produced about seven times more….. We found non-users of e-cigarettes might be exposed to nicotine but not too many toxicants when they are in close proximity to e-cigarette users.” said Goniewicz. Robert West, UK’s leading addiction expert stated “It’s not dangerous to be near someone who is smoking an electronic cigarette….. I can understand people wanting to be cautious, but if we fail to take this opportunity that electronic cigarettes potentially are providing, then we are really condemning people to death, that would otherwise have lived. That’s really what’s at stake.” in an interview with BBC News**.
Finally, we come to the last argument from the FDA and WHO, is Nicotine really bad for you?
Professor Peter Hayek, in an interview with BBC News** says “Many people out there think that Nicotine itself is a dangerous poison, but if nicotine is taken without the accompanying toxicants than the health effects would be very similar to drinking coffee”. This statement is reinforced by Dr. Carl V. Phillips independent research institute. Their website regarding tobacco harm reduction*** states “The effects of nicotine itself are similar to that other popular drug, caffeine.There is no evidence that nicotine causes any substantial risk for cancer, and the research shows that the risk for cardiovascular disease is minimal. The confusion about nicotine comes from anti-smoking activists talking about nicotine and smoking as if they were the same. While it is true that people smoke mostly because of nicotine; nicotine users die mostly because of the smoke.”
We believe the best summary of health issues related to vaping vs. smoking right now is this quote from Dr. Lynne Dawkins that can be seen in the YouTube video We should encourage smokers to try E-cigs – Dr Lynne Dawkins. She states, “I consider these (e-cigarettes) to be an attractive, low risk alternative to smoking….I say low risk, I do not absolutely mean risk free, but in contrast to cigarette smoking, the current evidence suggests they are much, much safer……About 82,000 people a year die, just in England as a consequence of their smoking….. Not because of their nicotine use, but as a consequence of their smoking.”
Basically, there is nothing in life that can be classified as 100% safe. The comparison that we need to keep in mind here is, are electronic cigarettes safer than the alternative, smoking cigarettes? So, what are your thoughts? When researching, be sure to always check the source of the information you are being told. We have linked the BBC interview where both Professor Peter Hayek and Robert West are featured sharing their views, as well as the other sources we used for this blog. Have you found additional information that confirms or conflicts with the information given here? Let us know what you know and what you think! And be sure to check back in next week when we look at the idea of vaping as a smoking cessation tool.
**BBC Youtube – Are Electronic Cigarette’s Safe
***Tobacco Harm Reduction: Nicotine