By tobacco harm reduction researcher Paul Bergen of tobaccoharmreduction.org
No one knows if e-cigarettes actually do help smokers kick the habit!
This statement (my exclamation mark!) arises predictably in many a tobacco control research paper and article. The statement can only be compared to someone watching television and saying:
no one knows if it is actually raining outside
Easy enough to find out the answer to either of these questions: poke your head into the real world for a minute. There you will find your answer, rain or not rain, and you will also find a substantial vaping community almost entirely consisting of ex-smokers.
I found the last iteration of the title statement in a Reuters article Study finds e-cigarettes affect airways, also quickly reported on a recently published article in Chest in which Greek researchers explored the (very) short term effects of vaping.
I don’t think I am alone in being a little confused about this study since the Chest abstract does not quite agree with the Reuters article in its description of what went on. The abstract is not clear about the smoking status of the experimental group but reading both reports leads me to think that they tested the effects of vaping on smokers while the control group were non-smokers who were given a cartridge free version of ecigs to puff on. (If any readers have access to the full article and find I am wrong in this, please comment).
This is really an apples and oranges (or apples and Apples) comparison.
Either you compare smokers vs nonsmokers on active e-cigarettes or compare smokers on active vs inactive electronic cigarettes. Or even better, and since this is supposed to be addressing the viability of e-cigarettes as alternatives for smokers, how about doing the obvious and comparing the airway constriction effects on smokers after a smoke and after a vape.
Because though there may be a measurable constriction of the airway, what is not clear at all is whether:
a. you have the same or different effect when smoking or
b. whether smokers are already predisposed to this effect or
c. if, in comparison to continuing smoking, this should even register as a concern.
And ultimately what really matters is that last one. Is a vaping constriction effect a risk that can compete with the risks of smoking?
I don’t think there is any advantage to treating vaping as a sacred cow, and it is wrong to just dismiss any possibility of vaping-related health risk. However, any reputable research should rise to the standards typical in other less politically charged areas, and any research that wishes to weigh in on vaping as an alternative to smoking should directly address that comparison.
(Aside: it is unfortunate that the industry opinion in the article is possibly even worse than the Greek study, since it buys into the 3rd hand smoke nonsense.)
If there was any doubt that the researchers had not stepped outside to check the weather, the lead author, Vardavas advised “If you’re trying to quit, stick to the methods that are known to work.”
Those, he noted, include nicotine patches and gum, prescription medications like bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix), and counselling. (See this recent post in this blog for links to research showing why you might not want to take this man seriously, that is, if you are a smoker looking for safer alternatives.)
ED: The opinions in this blog post represent that of Paul Bergen and not the Ashtray Blog. In particular, the Ashtray Blog does not claim the e-cigarette is a smoking cessation aid.
Also see The American Council on Science and Health’s take on the study: E Cigarette Study is Just Amateur Propaganda (page since removed), Smokescreen’s post: Making Sense of Nonsense (page since removed) and Professor Siegel’s take: New Study Shows that in Contrast to Tobacco Cigarettes, Electronic Cigarettes Do Not Impair Acute Lung Function