Another questionable piece of research is making the rounds in the news. I am sure everyone has seen at least one headline related to it by now. Whenever one of these studies about e-cigarettes and vaping comes out, it has the potential to go viral in a big way which is what happened here.
First, some enterprising journalist, monitors science journals to make his living. No problem there. However, journalism is based around clicks and not the truth, so the first guy needs a spicy headline. This sets off a firestorm with other writers at other outlets, where writers have to write more than one piece a day to eat.
Then we have a situation where the headline is disconnected from what is in the article and the source material. In the most popular article about the topic from AFP, republished at Yahoo news, half of the article is a heavy critique of the study and the headline is still an obvious scary click-bait headline. This is the same as the article at the Guardian, which has a lot of critique from other scientists that isn't reflected in the headline.
No journalist thinks, "Maybe this study isn't worth reporting about." or "Since people only read the headline, perhaps this is irresponsible."
Scary headline getting thousands of clicks at The Guardian and AFP? Time to rip of that headline and publish it everywhere! More Clicks!
Let's Look at the Study in Question
What doesn't make it into the headlines
Human cells were submerged in nicotine and in off-the-shelf bought carcinogenic nitrosamines. It is not surprising of course that this damaged the cells, but this has no relationship to any effects of e-cigarettes on people who use them ... [the study methods are] unclear relevance for effects of vaping
Pete Hejek continues his critique about the study (pointing out they buried some positive vaping information deep in the study):
No comparison with conventional cigarettes was made, but in the text of the article, the authors acknowledge the key bit of information that is of crucial relevance in this story: Vapers show a reduction in these chemicals of 97 percent compared to smokers. They should have added that his may well be the level that non-smokers obtain from their environment.
The Guardian quotes him as saying:
“This study shows nothing at all about the dangers of vaping,” said Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London. “It doesn’t show that vaping causes cancer.”
“This is one in a long line of false alarms which may be putting people off the switch from smoking to vaping which would undoubtedly be of great benefit to them,” he added. “The best current estimate is that vaping poses, at worst, some 5% of risks of smoking.”
After writing about these critiques, did the author think something like, "let's just put the word MAY into that headline so it isn't as misleading, Vaping may raise cancer and heart disease risk, study suggests"?
Another scientist, Ed Stephens, senior Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, was more kind to the authors of the study but still positive about vaping in general:
Unfortunately, no direct comparisons were made with tobacco smoke; instead the authors cite another study that found a key biomarker related to such genetic damage to be present in very much smaller quantities (97 percent less) in the urine of vapers compared with smokers.
That study and this new research are both consistent with the widely-held view that vaping is not without risk of cancer and other diseases, but that risk is usually considerably lower than smoking.
Okay, so these scientists just blew out the study authors methodology when it comes to drawing conclusions about humans from this study. What about the methodology of the 'science' conducted on the mice?
Vapor was produced that was in line with a vape tank powered by a mod at 4.2v. At least they did that. Most scientists crank the voltage up to to the most the mod can possible handle (dry hits galore).
Well, it turns out the scientist exposed the mice to 10mg/ml of nicotine laced vapor for three hours a day for three months. He said this was considered equivalent to a low dose vaping over a 10 year period. Low dose?
Not sure about anyone else, but most vapers can't handle 10mg concentrations of vapor without basically overdosing, commonly referred as over-nic. The most common vape juice concentration is 3mg, which is what most long term vapers use. New vapers or recent smokers may use a higher concentration but a much lower puff rate.
Any animal, human or mouse that is getting that heavily dosed with nicotine is definitely going to have some health problems. Since, nicotine activates adrenaline, I would assume that the animal would be exhausted most of the time and would probably be physically unable to rest appropriately, leading to a breakdown in the the repair functions talked about in the study.
Personally, this kind of concentrated exposure to a stimulant seems to study the effects on the body after such extreme exposure rather than a normal level of exposure on the same class of test subject.
When You Accidentally Study Nicotine and Not Vaping
What do you say?
Since the control for the study was exposing mice to vapor without nicotine, what were the results? Let's find out what the lead scientist, Moon-shong Tang, professor of environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine, has to say about the results (keep in mind solvent means the normal VG/PG vape liquid):
We found the solvent alone does not cause DNA damage ... Nicotine with e-cigarette solvent caused the same damage as nicotine alone.
In reality this study title should have been about nicotine and nicotine derivatives. That would have been productive for science (and society) to actually look at. This however is blatant attention grabbing since e-cigarettes are the new boogie man.
Other Research Looking at Nicotine has Opposing Results
Perhaps this new study has bad methodology?
Previous research has indicated that nicotine has a low correlation to causing cancer but that it is the smoke itself that is the cause of cancer. This is a wide spread belief among science.
We will leave it to the reader to make up their own mind about the harms of nicotine that lay beyond its addictive nature.