- Saturday, 10 August 2013 10:41
Anti-tobacco activists fail to realize the meaning of research and make some “amazing” statements
By Dr Farsalinos
An overview of chemical analyses on e-cigarette vapor was recently released online. The study, which was organized by CASAA and performed by Prof Burstyn at Drexler University, took information from published studies and online reports and compared the quantity of various chemicals with the established occupational exposure standards (which are used to define the limits of exposure in the working environment-TLVs). The main results of this study were that exposure levels for most chemicals was lower compared to occupational exposure limits by orders of magnitude.
Immediately after the release of the document, well-known anti-tobacco activists (which are rapidly developing into anti-smoker and anti-vaper activists, since their stance and behavior is oriented towards ignoring smokers’ health and potential benefits from switching to a safer alternative) have criticized the document by expressing the opinion that occupational exposure limits are not considered health-protective. Moreover, a second-hand smoking consultant (James L Repace) used the study by Schripp and coworkers to support that 2 in 10,000 will get cancer just because of the exposure to formaldehyde from the e-cigarette.
Where the truth lies
I have repeatedly mentioned that although chemical studies are important because they are the easiest and least expensive to do and can be performed on a large scale, the do not really evaluate the risk but give us a theoretical assessment of risk. In order to do this theoretical assessment, you have to apply some models. CASAA and Prof Burstyn used the occupational exposure TLVs as a model in order to examine this theoretical risk. The critics may dislike this choice but they did not recommend any other approach. Why? Because by seeing that the levels of exposure to chemicals by e-cigarette vapor is lower compared to TLVs by orders of magnitude it is obvious that whatever model you would apply, levels would still be lower than the safety limits.
Moreover, by discussing about health-protective levels, the anti-tobacco activists are completely missing the point and the reason for e-cigarette existence. E-cigarettes do not have any protective effects on the general population; they are safer alternatives for smokers. Therefore, they offer “protection” to smokers by substituting a harmful habit (smoking) with a less harmful one (vaping). So, their comments are completely out of context.
Whenever such comments are posted, it is inevitable that the same propaganda and misinformation will appear again and again. Once again, they mis-present the study by Schripp and coworkers, and go to the point of saying that 2 in 10,000 will develop cancer. What Schripp said in his study was that formaldehyde was detected before the volunteer started using the e-cigarette. Thus, he concluded that formaldehyde originated from the normal exhaled breath of the volunteer. So, James Repace is suggesting that just by sitting in the same room with another person you have a higher chance of developing cancer!! What a novelty! Moreover, saying that 2 out of 10,000 will get cancer is completely wrong. As I have recently presented and analyzed, the individual risk of developing cancer by exposure to the levels of formaldehyde found by Schripp is 0.02% (or 2 in 10,000 chances). Even if we ignore the fact that this risk refers to lifetime exposure (from birth till death, every single day, every single minute – thus, the risk is in fact non-existent), individual risk level cannot be interpreted as number of cases in a population. Whether you have 1 person or 10,000 people, the risk for each one of them is 0.02%. This does not mean that 2 out of 10,000 will develop disease. It may be hard for them to realize, but this is the truth.
In conclusion, chemical studies provide a theoretical risk for developing disease. Since they do not evaluate the risk objectively, an accepted model should be applied in order to examine the implications of the findings. Every chemical study should include such analysis, so that the results can be somewhat interpreted. Obviously, this does not fit to the agenda of the anti-smoker activists who want to support that just the presence of a chemical is dangerous irrespective of the quantity. Moreover, they deliberately deny the reality that e-cigarettes are used as smoking substitutes, therefore the risk estimation should always be compared to the respective risk obtained by smoking. Finally, supporting that by sitting next to another human you have an elevated risk of developing cancer is a statement that should be considered a joke rather than a serious and scientifically-based statement.
Dr Farsalinos is a researcher at Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens-Greece and at Medical Imaging Research Center, University Hospital Gathuisberg in Leuven-Belgium. He is actively involved in research on e-cigarettes’ safety and risk profile.