New research on electronic cigarettes positive but inaccurate
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Jean-Francois Etter: Electronic cigarettes: a survey of usersA new report based on a survey of e-cigarette users is cautiously positive but unfortunately full of errors.

Inaccuracies in reporting

One of the strangest things to me about the report was the reporting of the negative reactions.

The doctor reports 61 negative comments, including dry mouth and cost. However, of those 61 comments, 13 were NO UNDESIRABLE EFFECTS. (A survey of E-Cigarette Users p.17)

That means at the very most there were actually 48 negative comments.

Given this mis-reporting, I also have to be suspicious of the 9 miscellaneous comments reported as being negative.

On the positive side, even before taking into accounting the reporting of the comment as above, there were twice as many positive statements as negative statements. (And no, Dr Etter did not report “no positive comment” as a positive comment!)

Survey taken as scientific fact

The survey seems to be following a worrying modern trend of using the public’s opinion as the basis for ‘scientific fact’.

I first became aware of this with the case for third hand smoke. While the connection between smoking and lung cancer was established by following the lives of forty thousand doctors for several decades, the proof for third-hand smoke was established by a telephone survey of several hundred people.

This study seems to bear some resemblance to the third hand smoke study, implying that people’s worries about toxicity is a concern.

While we completely agree that there should be ongoing research into the electronic cigarette, the basis for research should be scientific, not based on a survey of lay people’s opinions.

Unsubstantiated claims

“Electronic cigarettes are probably less harmful than tobacco smoking, but they are almost certainly more dangerous than medicinal nicotine inhalers.” (A survey of E-Cigarette Users p.3)

Without evidence, I find it hard to understand how the scientist can make these claims. After all, the same ingredients are found in both products – and nicotine inhalers are known to contain trace elements of carcinogens.

No reference to quantity

The doctor mentions the impurities found in electronic cigarettes in FDA tests, but fails to mention they are similar to the levels found in FDA approved nicotine cessation aids. (A survey of E-Cigarette Users p.3)

Incorrect Facts

In addition, the doctor reported that the FDA had tested the vapour of the electronic cigarettes whereas in fact they had tested the ingredients of the electronic cigarettes. (A survey of E-Cigarette Users p.3) As we can see from the point below, this lead to quite different results. (Thanks to the very astute Kate from Vaper’s Net for pointing this out.)

Ignoring current studies

The report also claims that no studies have been conducted into the toxicity of the electronic cigarette (A survey of E-Cigarette Users p.11).

That’s simply not true.

Our own product, the NJOY, has been tested by a top scientist in leading independent laboratory in tests which found there were no toxins at all in the vapour. (Click here for the full report, or here for a summary of NJOY research.) We do, however, agree that regulation is required as many suppliers and manufacturers have not tested their products.

For more research into the electronic cigarette see our research page, which includes our own research conducted in conjunction with the TobaccoHarmReduction.org project.

Update: Following correspondence between myself, Dr Etter and Kate the document has now been amended regarding the FDA testing of the vapour. As for the reporting of the no negative comments as negative comments, Dr Etter stated:

The tables report the number of comments in each field, which is how these things are reported, whatever the contents. For undesirable effects, dry mouth and throat came first, and there were about twice as many beneficial effects than undesirable effects reported. The fact that 13 people reported no undesirable effect should be interpreted in favor of e-cigs.

Yet we all know how it will be reported by the press and the anti-smoking lobby, who are brilliant at manipulating statistics (such as the 0.8% success rate in a recent nicotine cessation study which was lauded as a success.)

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One Response to “New research on electronic cigarettes positive but inaccurate”

  1. E-Cig Guy May 8, 2010 at 5:30 am #

    What caught my eye the most in this is his repeated references to the “toxic” components of ecigarettes. I’m assuming he’s referring to the DEG found in Smoking Everywhere by the FDA.

    One might think a doctor would recognize that 1/19th of a sample group is hardly indicative of all the samples containing toxic components. While he is right that there is little oversight into the manufacturing and many do not publish data on their ecigs and we are seeing more and more manufactured by companies and individuals that do not seem to have the resources to mix juice in a laboratory environment, one should not make sweeping claims regarding toxicity without showing that a large number of samples do indeed contain toxic elements.

    I do so tire of the argument of “toxicity” based on one report regarding one sample from one manufacturer whose level of toxicity has actually never been explained to my knowledge by the FDA or any other medical organization. Since DEG does indeed have allowable levels published by the FDA it would be nice to hear what 1% in one cartridge actually means in regards to potential toxicity. i have repeatedly asked the FDA, it’s labs and their representatives to quantify this but over the last nine months have yet to receive any response.

    This whole argument is like condemning all toothpaste and mouthwash because of the numerous contaminations of those products by DEG. Yet you have never seen any dentist or doctor say toothpaste might be toxic because one sample from one manufacturer was found to contain DEG.

    Perhaps someday I’ll find a medical professional who can actually explain the toxicity of the levels found by the FDA in the interests of letting the public know the real threat, rather than simply stating over and over that DEG was found in ecigarettes and they may be potentially toxic.

    I thought scientists were about facts!!!

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