This morning many national media outlets have covered a study by researchers at New York University, which claims vaping raises the risk of lung and bladder cancer, and may cause heart disease.
The study provides no evidence of an increased risk of cancer or heart disease for users of electronic cigarettes.
The hyperbolic reporting of these conclusions is irresponsible, as according to Dr Jasmine Just from Cancer Research UK it’s not possible to draw any conclusions from this study about how vaping might affect people in real life because of the methods used. Other research has already refuted the conclusions this study makes, and it is therefore another example of misinformation that only harms smokers who may be put off switching to vaping which is a much safer alternative to smoking.
In New York University’s study mice were exposed to very high levels of aerosolised nicotine containing e-liquid. The researchers hypothesised the observed DNA damage and inhibition of DNA repair in the mice was a result of nicotine metabolism to Tobacco Specific Nitrosamines (TSNAs). As Professor Robert West from University College London made clear, it is not nicotine that kills you when you smoke tobacco, almost all the harm from smoking comes from the deadly cocktail of chemicals in tobacco smoke. Indeed, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have ruled that long term use of nicotine is not detrimental to the health of the user.
This laboratory study does not provide any data on the relative risk of vaping. The research investigated the effect of high dose nicotine containing aerosol on in vitro cell cultures and animal models. Such preliminary data cannot be used to extrapolate any meaningful conclusions on how exposure to vapour might affect vapers in real life. No comparison studies were made by exposing the mice to tobacco smoke under identical conditions.
The researchers acknowledge recent studies demonstrating e-cigarette users, similar to individuals on nicotine replacement therapy, have 97 % less TSNA metabolites in their body fluid than tobacco smokers. However, they adopt an absolute risk approach when speculating on a link between nicotine containing aerosol damaging DNA and increasing the risk of cancer in humans.
The University of St Andrews recently put the cancer risk from vaping at just one per cent when compared to smoking. Similar research undertaken by Italian researchers Stabile and Buonanno put the cancer risk associated with vaping at more than 50,000-fold lower than smoking.
There is never a situation where it is better to smoke than it is to vape. Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that 99 per cent of UK vapers are adult current or former smokers. Therefore, when assessing any harm associated with vaping, it is not how harmful vaping is in and of itself, but how harmful vaping is when compared to smoking.
In 2015, Public Health England (PHE) and The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) concluded that vaping was at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. Vaping is also supported by The Royal College of General Practitioners, and many other independent medical and public health bodies, including Cancer Research UK, who are so concerned with misleading media reports regarding vaping that they are currently running a campaign aimed at raising awareness of the relative safety of vaping.
It is the opinion of the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) that as a direct result of misinformation about vaping, including sensational and inaccurate press coverage of over interpreted studies; the public’s perception of the risks posed by vaping is being warped, deterring smokers from switching and even sending some vapers back to smoking. Headlines such as todays are irresponsible and inaccurate, and something that should be of concern to all those with a genuine interest in public health and choice.
Fraser Cropper Chair of the IBVTA, added:
“This is yet another example of the irresponsible and polemic journalism aimed at vaping and its users, which illustrates the principal reason why there is such a skewed and incorrect understanding of what vaping is.
Out of context studies that either directly or assisted by the media’s reporting, extrapolate nuanced and empirically misinterpreted ‘academic studies’ do not assist in informing smokers of the choices they have available to quit or reduce the enormous harm potential of smoking.
"The ability of vaping to transform the public health landscape is routinely undermined by this type of sinister and irresponsible reporting, which takes no account nor responsibility for the affect this misinformation brings."