Yesterday I woke up to see reports of a new study that claims to have proven that e cigarettes are just as harmful as smoking. Being a vaper I was obviously interested and a little concerned, so I looked a little deeper.
Examples of the reports in the media included:
Now, this was all based on a study published by Oral Oncology in NOVEMBER 2015, but sinisterly only released to the press in the first week of January. This press release spread through the media with all the scaremongering reports highlighted at a time when most people would be making resolutions to quit smoking, and maybe switch over to e cigs. How’s that for timing? It’s incidents like this that feed the conspiracy theory mill and it’s difficult to dismiss when these people wait a whole two months to release their report at a time where it will put the greatest amount of people off switching over to e cigs.
All that aside, it might just be a coincidence, and if this study has proven vaping to be as bad as smoking it’s something people need to know about, right? The press release can be seen in full here, and the author concluded at the end of the article that:
"Based on the evidence to date, I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes."
This was picked up by the media and the report spread like wild-fire as can been seen in some of the reports highlighted above.
So is the press release correct in saying that vaping is just as bad as smoking? A little digging showed me that this is just another scaremongering claim with little foundation.
The study itself involved exposing human epithelial cells (the type that line the mouth and lungs) in Petri dishes to e cigarette vapour from two different brands. The cells were treated with e cigarette extract every three days up to eight weeks, with some of the extract containing nicotine and some being nicotine-free.
At the end of the study, the cells were examined for damage and the press release stated that ‘DNA strand breaks’ were observed, and that this can ‘set the stage for cancer’. This was the news that was released (2 months later) to the public and reported across various media platforms and science publications.
But what they didn’t cover in the press release, and what wasn’t reported in the media, was the fact that they also exposed cells to tobacco smoke. They were trying to compare tobacco with e liquid but they couldn’t because the tobacco sampled cells died within 24 hours! The cigarette smoke was so toxic that the cells couldn’t survive beyond 24 hours, whereas the e cig cells were topped up every 3 days with more e liquid, and the testing continued for several weeks.
So it doesn’t take a scientist to say that tobacco is far more harmful if they couldn’t even keep the cells alive long enough to compare them with the e cigarette treated cells.
As Ian Lewis, Director of Research and Policy for Tenovus Cancer Care pointed out on Twitter, the headline could have been “Cells can survive for 8 weeks in e-cig liquid but only 24 hours in cigarette extract”.
This would have vindicated e cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking, along with the studies of Public Health England, and the reasons why e cigarettes are now available freely on the NHS as an aid to quit smoking.
It’s hard not to believe in conspiracy theories when reports like this happen. We’ve seen a study that has been spun to show that vaping is just as bad as smoking, but the crucial evidence that shows smoking is actually far worse was buried in the report and not even disclosed in the press release.
The press release was then issued two months later to coincide with the first week in January when many smokers would be considering switching over to e cigs. The press release was circled in the media and reported as fact, and the newspapers jumped on it with headlines from respected outlets like The Independent stating: “Vaping 'no better' than smoking regular cigarettes.”
It also seems no coincidence that 3 million vapers could mean a potential 3 million readers for their headlines and articles. A headline is a headline and delivers Internet traffic regardless of the truth. Do these newspapers and media websites know that a dramatic headline like this, timed to appear just as people are considering quitting smoking, will get them their daily clicks? I should think so. But if that is the case then this is irresponsible journalism of the highest order. At a time when the NHS are issuing e cigs as a means to quit smoking, a story like this could do irreparable damage to the health of thousands, possibly millions of smokers.
Is this just a case of irresponsible journalism? The old adage ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ holds stronger today than ever, so it’s quite possible. But is there something more sinister going on behind the scenes? This whole debacle shows us how easy it is to manipulate the press and orchestrate stories that are timed to do the most damage possible. Is there some powerful body with vested interests pulling the strings behind all these scare stories? Who knows?
I know what I think, but what do you think?