E-cig companies probably did a double take when reading the headline, especially those that already pay close attention toe-cig safety. The analysis was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and claimed that the vaping of e-cigarettes exposed the user to formaldehyde at a rate of 5 to 15 times that of traditional tobacco cigarettes. That’s the kind of conclusion that gets our attention, in a naturally skeptical way.
Turns out our inclinations were right, as criticism of the report has grown as people dig further.
The study was co-authored by Dr. James F. Pankow who is a professor of chemistry and engineering at Oregon’s Portland State University. While Pankow admits that “It’s way too early now from an epidemiological point of view to say how bad they are,” he insists that “there are toxins and some are more than in regular cigarettes.”
The clamoring began after the news headlines came out, with many pushing back because of a clear fault in the research. It didn’t take long for people to realize that the study only looked at e-cigarettes that were set at a very high voltage. Essentially, Pankow was checking out products that run way more power than what the far majority of e-cigs are set to. They’re going way past what e-cig brands are recommending, making the comparison ridiculous.
ECCR has previously thoroughly covered this topic and we are aware of the potential dangers of dripping and overheating e-liquids at high voltages. The average vaper never has to worry about that, nor does the typical consumer looking for a tobacco alternative.
It’s something people on the ground, especially those who deal in e-cig safety, find obvious. Vape shop owner Kayla Kates-Duay was interviewed by local KSLA news in Shreveport, LA and has plenty of criticism to how e-cigs are being portrayed. “When they’re saying high-powered they’re not saying traditional e-cigarettes. I think that they were misleading the story a little bit,” she said. “It’s from one study off of one product,” Duay pointed out, and she says the reports she has on 16 e-cig brands show very different numbers. That’s just one example of how e-cigarette dangers can be overstated to absurd levels.
It also appears that Pankow may now understand how his perception of e-cigarette dangers may have gone too far by framing things the way that he did. It opened the door to scathing and even belittling responses to the e-cig study, like that of Greg Gutfeld’s on the Fox News site.
“This e-cig study’s assertion is like saying driving a car is deadly if you floor it in reverse on a narrow cliff while doing JELL-O shots in your underwear.” – Greg Gutfield
Gutfeld zeroes in on the study’s use of high voltage units that are past their specifications. He jokingly remarks that Pankow’s assertion “would be like saying driving a car is deadly if you floor it in reverse on a narrow cliff while doing JELL-O shots in your underwear.” Gutfeld also points to Jacob Sullum’s Reason magazine report that quoted Pankow explaining that they are “not saying e-cigs are more hazardous than cigarettes,” as he retreated from his initial claims.
Basically this is a story of a researcher going to publication way too early, without even a small pause to check how things work in the real world.
E-cig safety is something that needs to be watched closely, but the legitimatee-cig brands are doing just that. If Pankow hadn’t been in such a rush to release his findings, he would have known and perhaps changed his research criteria, or at least report his data with the proper context.
Maybe then we could have avoided the alarmist headlines we were seeing in the news. Since many people only have time to read the headlines without doing further reading, this kind of thing simply leads to misperception of electronic cigarettes. That’s a terrible thing for e-cig brands, but worse for smokers who may have otherwise find in e-cigarettes a powerful tool. It would be refreshing if researchers would just start telling the truth about e-cigarettes and performing some actual, useful research.
So even if yet another negative accusation of e-cigarettes was finally shot down, the impact still made its mark. We hope that researchers will take this part of the equation much more seriously and refrain from using language that can be misleading. With e-cig safety such a hot topic these days, we may unfortunately be in for more reports like this one as academics and politicians rush to judgment way too often.
That’s another reason to check in often to the ECCR news section, where we’ll be sure to provide you with the commentary and perspective you need to make the right decisions.