Friday, September 5, 2014

There's a gap between e-cigarette science and reporting

Via RealClearScience I learned of a study just published in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts. The study is a comparison between the emission rates of particulate metals and organic compounds of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes. 

The researchers concluded:

Overall, with the exception of Ni, Zn, and Ag, the consumption of e-cigarettes resulted in a remarkable decrease in secondhand exposure to all metals and organic compounds. Implementing quality control protocols on the manufacture of e-cigarettes would further minimize the emission of metals from these devices and improve their safety and associated health effects.
Given what we already know about e-cigarettes, this paper seems to offer just a little bit more evidence that the smoking alternatives are far safer than tobacco. The original news article on the study, though, reaches a strikingly different conclusion. The article ends with a quote from the director of Smoking Cessation Services at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City:

On the one hand, this study is good news for e-cigarettes; it shows they’re safer,” said Seidman. “On the other hand, it’s bad news for them because it supports the notion of regulating them and they don’t want that.
So secondhand exposure to metals and organic compounds from e-cigarettes is much lower compared to traditional cigarettes, so let's regulate e-cigarettes. How could that possibly follow from the study? At first glance, I wanted to accuse Science Insider of misrepresenting the researchers' conclusion, but the story quotes one of the authors and he seems enthusiastic about banning e-cigarettes in public spaces.

Boston University's Michael Siegel has written about this gap between the data on e-cigarettes and the media coverage that most people see. Not only do we have science journalists misrepresenting the science on this issue, but we have scientists and doctors helping them misrepresent it. What's worse is that e-cigarettes have been subject to critical scrutiny for nearly a decade now, yet this obfuscation continues.

The dishonesty is certainly annoying, but it also means that the anti-smoking lobby is losing the debate--and they know it. Watching their arguments devolve has been a hobby of mine for several years now. When the FDA first weighed in back in 2009, noting that e-cigarette vapor contains  far fewer carcinogens than tobacco smoke, the official anti-smoking line was an argument from ignorance--"we need more data, blah blah blah." Then the clinical evidence started to trickle in, and the tobacco warriors switched to the well worn gateway argument by suggesting that e-cigs lead kids to real cigarettes, which was summarily debunked. Now the time has come, as it does in any public health debate, where the losing side simply begins reinterpreting inconvenient data to suit its agenda, however obvious this ploy may be to anyone who's paying attention.

Ironically, the modern tobacco control movement is behaving exactly as the tobacco industry did many decades ago: they're making stuff up. And a lot of smokers may die as a result.