Scientists find major flaws with new e-cig airways passage study

Punching through paper.

We recently published a blog complaining about the way papers have only been publishing negative news about e-cigarettes.

The blog was in response to media stories about a new study which claims e-cigs lead to a restriction in airway passages, published as a press release entitled: Experts warn that e-cigarettes can damage the lungs.

While we were complaining, The Electronic Cigarette Trade Industry Association (ECITA), some ecig companies and tobacco harm reduction scientists have been digging into the study – and found some major flaws in it. This blog post draws heavily upon their efforts. Unfortunately, the only published version I am currently able to link to is Professor Siegel’s excellent analysis of the study – I’ll add more links as I come across them.

Undisclosed Conflict of Interest

A wad of money is held in a women's hand.

Professor Gratzio, the author of the study, has received funding from Pfizer to conduct studies on ‘suicide drug’ chantix, a drug which has lead to thousands of incidences of suicide, suicidal thoughts, violence and many other negative side effects, and carries a black box warning by the FDA, but which is considered an effective smoking cessation treatment by the Professor.

Pfizer, along with other pharmaceutical companies, produces nicotine cessation products (including Chantix/Champix) which are threatened by the success of e-cigarettes. They have also spent millions funding groups which have attacked the electronic cigarette.

Crucially, this conflict of interest was not disclosed, either to the press or in the media abstract.

Neither Published nor Peer Reviewed

A file titled top secret.

The study in question has neither been published nor peer reviewed. There is no written study available, only an abstract which was presented at a conference.

What’s alarming is that the pre-release of this abstract seems to have been calculated to create maximum waves in the press – before the actual contents of the study have been made available for scientists to analyse!

Mis-Representation of the Study and Unproved Claims

Mis representation.

Damage to the Lungs

The study claims that e-cigarettes can temporarily increase airway resistance to the lungs. This does not mean it causes any harm to the lungs.

However, the study has been represented as showing that damage is caused to the lungs.

Professor Michael Siegel has discussed this in depth, pointing out:

A temporary increase in airway resistance does not equate to “lung damage.”

Hot humid air also increases airway resistance – but air has not yet been found to damage lungs. (Hopefully, the MHRA and FDA will not attempt to ban humid air!)

Starving Lungs of Oxygen

Claims have also been made that the change in airway resistance leads to lower levels of oxygen in the blood.

In fact, no attempt to measure levels of oxygen in the blood was made, and we do know that humid air does not lead to lower levels of oxygen in the blood!

E-Cigarettes Not Proven Safe

The Professor claimed:

We do not yet know whether unapproved nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, are safer than normal cigarettes, despite marketing claims that they are less harmful.

In contrast to the above claim, the study does not prove that e-cigs are not safe. The claim runs counter to experts’ opinions, research and elementary science that shows that 99% or more of the damage of smoking is caused by inhaling the smoke and tar caused by burning tobacco.

Conflicts with Previous Studies

Two boxers face off.

Katherine Devlin of ECITA has queried some of the results of the study.

In particular, in previous research smokers have been found to have a higher airway resistance then never smokers. However, according to the study, smokers have a lower airway resistance than non-smokers.

Professor Siegel also contrasted the results with a previous study into airway resistance, which only found “sub-clinical” changes in airway resistance, and concluded:

the clinical changes may be too small to be of major clinical importance.

Professor Polosa, who we interviewed here, also criticised the study in an email to Elaine Keller of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association (CASAA), stating:

A recent clinical safety assessment of one such product in 40 smokers showed that mouth and throat irritation and dry cough were commonly reported in the initial few weeks of use, but all appeared to wane spontaneously by the end of the study, after 24 weeks of regular use. Thus the authors’ conclusions are not fully supported by the data, and the accumulating evidence is rather strongly supportive of a good safety profile for the e-cigarettes.

These conflict of results highlights the need for peer review – preferably before conclusions are drawn and published in major newspapers!

9 thoughts on “Scientists find major flaws with new e-cig airways passage study”

  1. There is more detailed information in the article about this research in the CHEST Journal. See this link:

    In the link it can be seen that the project was partially supported by internal funds of the Hellenic Cancer Society, Greece and there is a Financial/nonfinancial disclosure saying: “The authors have reported to CHEST that no potential conflicts of interest exist with any companies/organizations whose products or services may be discussed in this article”.

  2. I think this is a different study. The one you linked to do is dated in June, but according to the press release I linked to in the post the study was presented to on 2nd September. I know this is not the first e-cig airways study to have been conducted.

  3. In the study an commercial e-liquid was used, apparently including PG, nicotine and flavours.
    What I do not understand why they have not done this apparently simple testing method with PG alone, with PG + nicotine and with the e-liquid including flavours.
    For me it is from the article what would have caused the increase in airway resistance. Is it the PG, nicotine or flavours?
    From PG it is long known that there are some effects. In the DOW brochure on Glycols ( it says: ”
    Inhalation of the vapors of propylene glycol (PG) appears to present no significant hazard in ordinary applications. However, limited human experience indicates that breathing of mists of propylene glycols may be irritating to some individuals. Prolonged inhalation of saturated vapors of
    PG have produced only minor effects in animals (irritation). However, such concentrations may be irritating to the upper respiratory tract and eyes of humans.
    Therefore breathing spray mists of these materials should be avoided. In general, Dow does not support or recommend the use of Dow’s glycols in applications where breathing or human eye contact with the spray mists of these materials is likely, such as fogs for theatrical productions or antifreeze solutions for emergency eye wash stations.”
    So what is this article about?

  4. Though I am a painter in fine art, and my website pertains, mainly to that purpose. I have a page linked on the front page to:
    At it’s worst it’s a crime against all humanity and nature to oppose a safe alternative to smoking and all the products proven to be NOT UNSAFE!!! On the other hand the irony and crossed purposes and the crossroads itself, have a edge of sick in the pit of the stomach humor. As to how this will end up, or continue on… With my own health after 45 years of smoking teetering on the brink of vape, quit or die of disease… I am hoping that our generation us the boomers and elders of, that still inhabit the planet can have another wack at the Administration of Destruction and Censorship, can be once again out voted/voted out by demonstrations, lol (sit-ins, protest marches, and the persuasive majority of thoughts and votes coming over to our side)as happened for civil rights, Viet Nam and Women’s Rights. This is the only generation, BB’s that has managed to initiate causes and take them beyond the table where laws have been enacted in the courts on high. As any of us know, that power corrupts absolutely, and some of these very same liberal leaning people are spear heading the smear beheading of the vaping industry and it’s consumers. What a tangled web to be up against. Fear not, vape on and bury your goods in safe underground speakeasys’ in case they make our converse beyond cohesive reaches.

    1. Thanks for the comment Lisa. We have an advantage that previous generations didn’t have, the internet and social networks, which means we can counter propoganda from big corporationas via blogs, forums and social network. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier than it used to be!

  5. The problem with the majority of these studies is that they are OBSERVATIONAL studies, and not CLINICAL studies, and actually prove nothing.

    Observational studies only observe and try to conclude something results in something (by looking for a pattern). This proves *nothing*. A clinical study, on the other hand, would continue after observation and use control groups and other factors to come to an actual scientific conclusion. They key then, is that it must be CONSISTENT and REPEATABLE when done again. Only then can the conclusion be deemed to be scientifically sound.

    Junk science has been using this “scare tactic” for years (publishing observations as fact), when the reality is nothing has been proven. The media then picks it up to fill up space and sell advertising, and everyone’s happy – except for the hapless consumers and patients.

    This needs changing, so that real science can be published, and not be so one-sided and hypocritical.

  6. Pingback: Electronic Cigarettes and Heart Disease

  7. I’ve been reading more and more on how lobbyists our influencing our government and not listening to the people. This is not only on electronic cigarettes but also on organic food farmers and so much more. Thanks for the information and please keep it coming.

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