Experts refute Tasmanian vaping study equating smoking and vaping

A report began surfacing earlier this week of a team of Australian researchers claiming that vaping and Heat-not-Burn systems are just as deadly as smoking.  They claim that both e-cigarettes and the heated tobacco device IQOS manufactured by Big Tobacco’s Phillip Morris causes just as much inflammatory damage and oxidative stress to the lungs as smoking.

But mainstream media journalists still have essentially no idea what vaping is all about.  Unfortunately, they automatically assume that research like the Tasmanian vaping study was based in scientific fact.  They rarely check to see if the co-authors or their conclusions are reputable by contacting other public health experts in the field.

Related Article:  Is HnB technology giving vaping a bad name?

Instead, these bloggers and journalists simply proceeded to write hundreds of fear-mongering headlines that spread across social media like wildfire.  One example from the Metro in the UK stated, No type of smoking is safe: cigarettes, heated tobacco, vaping all ’cause serious lung damage.’ Headlines like these are unfortunately designed to drive millions of smokers straight back into the loving arms of Big Tobacco.

The study-in-question entitled IQOS exposure impairs human airway cell homeostasis: direct comparison with traditional cigarette and e-cigarette is published for the world to see on the ERS Journals website.  Luckily, several highly-regarded and well-credentialed scientists have already stepped forward to refute the paper’s findings.  

Dr. Ed Stephens, University of St. Andrews, Senior Research Fellow

According to Science Media Centre (SMC), Dr. Stephen Andrews has “no conflicts of interest or any connection with the tobacco or e-cigarette industries, nor indeed with any commercial interest.”  The SMC also published Dr. Andrews’ opinion regarding the controversial vaping study in which he calls its findings “puzzling.” He further claims that public health experts should treat the co-authors' conclusions with “considerable caution.” 

“This Research Letter to ERJ Open Research is a puzzling contribution to the debate on e-cigarette safety. It presents new data that purport to show, among other things, that emissions from e-cigarettes are about as harmful to respiratory health as smoking combustible cigarettes. E-cigarettes are certainly not harmless but the authors’ conclusion is inconsistent with most published research which indicates that vaping is significantly less hazardous than smoking.”

Dr. Andrews further explains that the Australian scientists failed to consider the excessively high heating temperatures that would be required to compile the e-cig data necessary to support the paper’s conclusions.  This same discrepancy has been cited over and over again when more reputable scientists have refuted similarly bogus vaping studies of the past.  Yet, here we are again.

“There is a plausible explanation for their findings, namely that the e-cigarette vapour generated for their experiments with living cells was laden with toxic carbonyls, which can easily happen when the e-cigarette device is run at moderately high power and wicking does not adequately keep up with re-supplying e-liquid to the heating coil, a phenomenon known as a “dry puff”. The sensory experience of dry puffs is so unpleasant due to high levels of formaldehyde that vapers avoid them by modifying their vaping behaviour or adjusting the settings on their devices.”

Dr. Lion Shahab, University College London, Associate Professor

The SMC also published the opinion of Dr. Lion Shahab, an Associate Professor of the Behavioural Science and Health Institute of Epidemiology & Health at the University College London.  Shahad has a professional history of collaborating with Big Pharma companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

In his opinion statement regarding the Tasmania study, Shahad also takes issue with the researchers’ in-laboratory methodologies.  He specifically notes that the researchers exposed the living cells to the various vapors and tobacco smokes for a lengthy period of three full days, which does not mirror real world use of the technology in any way.  Even the concentrations of smoke and vapor are suspect.

“These type of studies (whether in cells or animals) also have problems for different reasons which are key when trying to make more general inferences. For instance, exposing cells to smoke or vapour continuously for 3 days, as was done here, does not reflect realistic use conditions. This also applies to the concentrations of smoke used in the experiment which is not what humans inhale. It is also difficult to interpret how the changes observed relate to actual health outcomes, as there are many steps that need to take place between changes at cellular level and disease development.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and multiple anti-vaping organizations are on an aggressive campaign to annihilate the American vaping industry.  The agency has already banned the sales of many flavors of e-liquids through conventional brick-and-mortar retailers like convenience stores and gas stations.  Now the FDA is even threatening to abolish the sales of all vaping devices, including those available through online purchases.  Bogus “studies” such as the one from Tasmania only further confuse these regulatory and public perception issues further. 

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