Recently, news about a study that claimed using electronic cigarettes causes damage to lungs appeared on several popular Internet news outlets, sowing fear in the heart of anyone even considering switching from tobacco to vapor.
During the 2012 meeting of the European Respiratory Society, in Vienna, Austria, a study into the use of electronic cigarettes was presented. It was conducted by a number of so-called experts from the University of Athens, in Greece who upon testing lung resistance in a number of subjects, after they used e-cigs for 10 minutes, concluded that they are unsure whether smoking is really any more dangerous than vaping. And as if this kind of claims weren’t bad enough, international media took the study’s press release and completely misinterpreted it, posting all kinds of ridiculous titles that included phrases like “harms the lungs”, “causes lung damage”, or “cause less oxygen to be absorbed by the blood”. None of this were actually used in the Greek study, but who cares about that, what seems to be really important these days is letting people know just how terrible and dangerous e-cigarettes really are…
In reality, the study conducted by the University of Athens really just measured lung resistance in 32 subjects, 8 non smokers and 24 smokers. Of the smokers, 11 had normal lung function and 13 suffered from asthma or COPD. They were all asked to use an electronic cigarette for 10 minutes, and lung resistance was measured before and after. Their findings revealed that in people who had never smoked there was an increase in lung resistance from 182% to 206%, in smokers with normal lung function the increase was from 176% to 220%, while in patients with COPD or asthma airways didn’t seem to be affected by the use of e-cigarettes at all. Professor Christina Gratziou, one of the authors and Chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, concluded: “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. This research helps us to understand how these products could be potentially harmful.”
You’re probably terrified by now, thinking electronic cigarettes have probably destroyed your poor lungs. Settle down for a minute, and let’s take a look at the facts. All these “experts” did was measure the difference in lung resistance after the use of electronic cigarettes. They found that resistance increases after inhaling nicotine vapor, but it’s a known scientific fact that even inhaling hot humid air increases lung resistance in some healthy individuals, but no one ever claimed it causes damage to the lungs. Why anyone would suggest that a temporary increase in lung resistance equals lung damage is beyond me, but the fact is many important Internet news sites did just that. Not to mention the exaggerations about e-cigs causing hypoxemia (lowered oxygen in the blood), when the study didn’t even measure the level of oxygen in the blood.
As Dr. Michael Siegel, a firm supporter of electronic cigarettes as a means to quit smoking, notes on his blog, “a propylene-based electronic cigarette system has been shown to produce airways inflammation in users, resulting in subclinical evidence of increased airway resistance. Whether long-term use of electronic cigarettes would lead to clinical manifestations due to actual airway obstruction is unclear, and more research is necessary to make such a determination. What we do know, however, is that long-term continuation of cigarette smoking will almost certainly lead to clinically significant airway obstruction. The bottom line: if a smoker is choosing between active smoking and electronic cigarette use, the use of the electronic cigarette is clearly the wiser choice.” Sounds like a pretty reasonable conclusion, but it seems other anti-tobacco researchers do not agree.
The authors of this small study are concluding that because vaping can possibly cause a small temporary increase in airways resistance, electronic cigarettes may be just as unsafe as tobacco cigs. That’s a truly baffling statement, one that not even tobacco companies would dare make. They’re saying that vaporized nicotine and propylene glycol can be just as damaging to the lungs as tobacco smoke, tar and all the thousands of carcinogenic compounds it contains. There is no evidence to back up this kind of ridiculous claims, but the public doesn’t need to know that. All they need to know is that “experts” came to this conclusion, so it must be true… It’s sad to see yet another low blow aimed at a revolutionary device that could potentially save the lives of millions, but there are obviously other interests at stake here.
Please, do yourself a favor and don’t believe everything you read in the paper without doing some research of your own.