Eos Scientific Condemns Sensationalist Headlines

There has been sweeping headlines in the media in the last few days about the ‘hidden harmful effects of electronic cigarettes’. These sort of headlines come and go causing unnecessary alarm in the vaping community. This one is based on a study by a group of researchers at Birmingham University. The following is an excerpt from the press release by Thorax, the journal where the research is published.

‘The vapour impairs the activity of alveolar macrophages, which engulf and remove dust particles, bacteria, and allergens that have evaded the other mechanical defences of the respiratory tract.’

The findings prompt the researchers to suggest that while further research is needed to better understand the long term health impact of vaping on people, e-cigarettes may be more harmful than we think, as some of the effects were similar to those seen in regular smokers and people with chronic lung disease’.

The media headlines include the following:

“E-cigarettes ‘more harmful than we think”

“E-cigarette vapour disables important immune cells in the lung and boosts inflammation”

Really? Let’s examine the study.

First of all, how was the study conducted?  This is the Achilles’ Heel of those who want to propagate the ‘harmfulness of e-cigarettes’. Was the experiment designed to simulate real exposure scenario? The answer is again, as in the other similar studies, NO. What these researchers did was expose these particular lung cells (alveolar macrophages) up to 24 hours to a condensate (vapour collected after several inhalations up to 1.4 ml of eliquid and cooled). Is this remotely similar to what actually lung cells in vapers would be exposed to in real life situation?  No, not even close. The average vaper makes a vaping session consisting of 10-20 inhalations. Each session is then followed by a relatively long time of inhaling air. Even assuming a vaper consumes 1.4 ml of eliquid over a 24-hour period, any effect is diluted by several fold due to the air breathed in during the non-vaping time, which is much longer than the vaping session in 24 hours. The lung cells in the vaper will not be exposed to vaping chemicals continually for 24 hours. The other crucial missing condition in the study for the lung cells is the actual physicochemical environment. For example, is the pH of the solution in the experiment the same as the lung membrane pH.  pH is a measure of acidity and it has a significant impact on physiological activity. What are the actual condensate chemical components? Some of the chemicals created at higher vaping temperatures are unlikely to remain the same in the condensate due to change in temperature. These are just two examples, there are more.

The electronic cigarette industry now has the Tobacco Products Directives (TPD), which if correctly used and implemented can significantly decrease the risk associated with vaping. It requires eliquid products to undergo chemical testing both in the liquid and aerosolised form for a number of chemicals identified by a panel of highly respected scientists to pause risk to vapers.

Yes, we need further research to see the effect of long term use of these products. We also need all eliquid products including shortfills (which technically fall beyond TPD remit) to be tested fully to minimise any potential risk.

But, sensationalising a set of data generated from a single study with questionable experimental design can lead to spreading of wrong and harmful perception among smokers looking for a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. No alternative can be a hundred percent safe but the general consensus based on the assessment of research evidence so far is that electronic cigarettes are much safer than smoking cigarettes.