Why the ‘e-liquids have germs’ vaping study is bogus

On April 24, Harvard scientists published the findings of a new vaping study which suggest that many e-liquids sold in the United States are filled with microbes and microbial toxins.  The study’s primary focus is on two individual contaminates which are also found in much higher quantities in the smoke of combustible tobacco products.  Yet social media is flooded with bogus headlines falsely claiming that e-liquids are loaded with nasty germs, microbes, and fungus. 

While trace amounts of each microbial, endotoxin and glucan, were identified after testing some 75 different vapor products, the researchers fail to take into consideration several critical factors regarding the process of vaping itself.  First, conventional cigarette smoke is obviously laced with numerous toxins, many of which are generated by the burning of the tobacco leaves themselves.  E-liquids are 100 percent tobacco-free, which automatically diminishes their potential toxicities levels quite dramatically right from the start.

Related Article: American Cancer Society on vaping: Nicotine is not tobacco

Other toxins produced from combustible tobacco products are the result of dead bacteria and fungi that somehow enter into the cigarettes during the manufacturing processes, which is also not an issue associated with e-liquid production.  Neither of these issues, in fact, are highlighted in the Harvard research, but there’s more problems with this vaping study, too.

Harvard scientists failed to test e-cig vapor

The Harvard report entitled Endotoxin and (1→3)-β-D-Glucan(1→3)-β-D-Glucan Contamination in Electronic Cigarette Products Sold in the United States is published on the U.S. government website Environmental Health Perspectives.  The report suggests that of the 75 vapor products purchased online and scientifically tested, 23 percent contained measurable levels of endotoxin and 81 percent contained “some” glucan.  Endotoxins were more prevalent in fruity and desert flavors while glucan was ten times more likely associated with tobacco and menthol flavors. 

“Endotoxin concentrations were over the limit of detection (LOD) in 17 of 75 products tested (23%), and glucan concentrations were greater than LOD in 61 of 75 products (81%). After adjusting for brand and flavor, the mean glucan concentration was 3.2 times higher [95% confidence interval (CI): −0.1−0.1, 18.4] in cartridge vs. e-liquid samples. After adjusting for brand and type of product, glucan concentrations in tobacco- and menthol-flavored ECs were 10.4 (95% CI: 1.8, 44.9) and 3.5 (95% CI: 0.1, 17.3) times higher than concentrations found in fruit-flavored products.”

Related Article:  New UK study says vaping is up to 98 percent lower in cancer-causing toxins

Another limitation of the Harvard report’s findings is that the researchers failed to test the levels of toxins found in the aerosol produced from these allegedly suspicious e-liquids. This leads to the question, how much of these two contaminates are vapers actually ingesting? 

Researchers tested only first-generation devices

The Harvard scientists further claim to have “selected 37 cartridges and 38 e-liquid products with the highest nicotine content from the ten top-selling U.S. brands.”  After delving deeper into the report, however, the reader soon discovers that only first-generation, cig-a-like products were chosen. Newer vape gear like pens, pods, and tanks were ignored completely.

The FDA’s anger towards Juul pods, in particular, is driving much of the anti-vaping legislation being implemented across the country at the local, state, and federal levels.  This begs the question, why didn’t Harvard test the pods?

Vaporized propylene glycol kills airborne bacteria

For several decades, scientists have already known that vaporized propylene glycol kills many forms of airborne bacteria, including pneumococci, streptococci, staphylococci, and even the influenzae virus.  Since propylene glycol is a major ingredient of e-liquids, it’s especially noteworthy that the Harvard report fails to even mention this key factor.

Related Article:  Study shows e-cigs propylene glycol kills pneumococci, streptococci, staphylococci

If e-liquids do indeed contain trace amounts of glucan and endotoxin, are they possibly burned off or killed through the vaping process?  Had the researchers tested the e-liquid vapor rather than the e-liquid itself, the now-published findings may have been deemed completely void.  In defense of the Harvard scientists, the co-authors of the study state that “additional research is needed to confirm our findings and assess potential exposures and health effects” of vaping. 

The data regarding vaporized propylene glycol is well-documented in a series of studies conducted by Dr. Theodore Puck, a highly-regarded scientist of the 1940s.  Puck was so well-respected that he appeared in Time Magazine in November of 1942. One of Puck’s papers on vaporized propylene glycol is entitled, The Bactericidal action of propylene glycol vapor on microorganisms suspended in air (NLB-NIH),

Related Article: Bogus ‘study’ claims e-cigs release two new cancer-causing chemicals

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