E-cigarettes were a hot topic in scientific research last year. All credible e-cig studies in 2015 confirmed that vaping is exponentially safer than smoking cigarettes; however, some shoddy science has led media outlets to continue making controversial and unfounded claims about vapor products.
E-Cig Research in 2015
From second-hand vapor to the effects of vapor on the lungs, e-cigs took a hard hit in 2015. While some e-cig studies have been debunked by experts and leaders in the industry, others continue to top headlines even at the start of 2016. Here is a recap of the biggest stories in e-cig science for 2015.
January 2015: E-cigs vs. Formaldehyde
Stories about “hidden” levels of formaldehyde in e-cigs started circulating after a study found that heating e-liquids to extreme temperatures generates trace amount of the dangerous chemical. These dubious claims quickly drew criticism because the temperatures used to produce formaldehyde were much higher than any commercial e-cig can comfortably reach.
February 2015: E-cigs vs. Viral Infections
Research on rodents revealed that mice exposed to large quantities of e-cig vapor were more vulnerable to infections. Some media outlets erroneously reported that the goal of the study was to test the effects of secondhand e-cig vapor, but the conditions of the study were intended to simulate direct inhalation rather than passive exposure. While the results are concerning for vapers who like to hotbox inside a glass cage, results on mice cannot always be easily extrapolated to humans, and all research on people has indicated that vaping is safer than smoking.
March 2015: E-cigs vs. Secondhand Vapor
A suspicious study claiming that e-cig vapor contains the same toxins found in tobacco smoke grabbed headlines, but was quickly refuted by another study that reconfirmed 2013 findings indicating the only significant byproduct of e-cig vapor is nicotine.
Related: The Secondhand Sham: Another E-Cig Myth DeMISTified
May 2015: E-cigs vs. Lung Disease
Researchers unsuccessfully tried linking e-cigs to lung conditions like COPD. Had they read another study published a few months prior, they would have known that e-cigs had already been proven to reduce symptoms in COPD patients who recently switched from smoking to vaping. If real people experienced improvements with the disease after switching to vaping, then what sense does it make to claim that vaping can actually lead to the disease?
June 2015: E-cigs vs. Quitting Tobacco
After reviewing a meta-analysis of two studies suggesting that e-cigs containing nicotine are more effective at helping people quit smoking than pharmaceutical products like nicotine patches and gum,
the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force mysteriously concluded that “There is not enough evidence to evaluate the effectiveness, safety or benefits and harms of using e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking.” Meanwhile, a survey of 27,343 vapers circulated by CASAA found that 87 percent of respondents cut back on smoking tobacco cigarettes after picking up vaping.
July 2015: E-cigs vs. Lung Cells
An investigation into the effects of inhaling e-cig vapor on lung cells concluded, “E-cigarette aerosol contains less volatile compounds than normal exhaled breath.”
August 2015: E-cigs vs. Scientific Research
August 2015 marked a big win for vapers in the UK with the release of Public Health England’s Evidence-Based Review which led to the first official recognition that e-cigs are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. The review covered several e-cig studies that had been collected around the globe since 2014, from studies of nicotine content, emissions and delivery via e-cigs to the effects of e-cig vapor on the lungs.
Related: The Future of Electronic Cigarettes: Part 1
September 2015: E-cigs vs. Gateway Claims
A study asserting that e-cigs can be a gateway to smoking for youth achieved national notoriety. While the report drew much needed attention to the large number of youth experimenting with e-cigs, traditional tobacco smoking rates are at an unprecedented low, which seems to directly contradict the idea that e-cigs lead youth to take up smoking.
A U.K. survey further debunked the gateway myth the following month when surveyors announced that they “couldn’t find a single e-cigarette user” who hadn’t smoked tobacco. Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams, pointed out that if “e-cigarettes were a gateway to tobacco…we should be seeing people who have never smoked a cigarette before using e-cigs now. In fact, the opposite is true.”
Related: E-Cigs DeMISTified: The Erroneous E-Cig Gateway Claim
October 2015: E-cigs vs. Toxic Particulate Matter
A group of researchers conducted a systematic review and observational study on the emission of particulate matter via e-cigs. The AVA was quick to point out the severe bias of the study as the researchers’ conclusion did not match the actual study results which had involved testing the home environments of smokers and vapers compared to smoke/vape-free homes.
November 2015: E-Cigs vs. Smoking Cessation
A study conducted by the Rutgers School of Public Health reinforced the idea that e-cigs play an important role in smoking cessation as the study results showed evidence that U.S. adults who had recently quit tobacco did so with the help of e-cigs.
December 2015: E-cigs vs. Harmful Chemicals Linked to Lung Diseases
Another flawed study falsely linked e-cig use with “popcorn lung,” a form of bronchitis common among popcorn factory workers who are exposed to high quantities of the chemical diacetyl. Although the researchers did find e-liquid flavors that contain the chemical, they failed to mention that tobacco cigarettes emit 750 times more diacetyl than any e-cig flavor tested, as noted by Dr. Michael Siegel, Professor of Health Sciences at Boston University.
Related: The Dangers of Diacetyl in E-Cigs
As we have all learned this past year, you can’t always take scientific-sounding headlines at face value. Research studies vary in quality, and media reporters are quick to run with controversial sound bites before reading a full academic report. Keep yourself educated about the latest developments in e-cig research so that you can be better vape advocate in 2016.