Renowned anti-smoking tobacco control expert Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos debunks an outlandish study by the American Cancer Society claiming to find byproducts in the vapor of specific flavors of e-liquid.
Back in November of 2016, long before their position change toward considering vaping safer than smoking, the American Cancer Society published an outrageous study claiming that e-liquids may be toxic. The vaping industry and community immediately decried the research. They accused the authors of following poor procedure and intentionally manipulating their data to skew their results to fit their narratives and agendas. Among these critics was the respected tobacco control professional, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a research fellow at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens, Greece, who decided to conduct one of his famous replication studies to uncover the facts.
The ACS Study
The original study, titled Flavoring Compounds Dominate Toxic Aldehyde Production during E-Cigarette Vaping was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology and claimed to find elevated levels of aldehyde emissions in the vapor of specific flavors of e-liquids, while remarkably finding no aldehyde emissions in unflavored e-liquid. If dry pulls were the source of aldehyde emissions, as prior research has indicated, then the ACS study would have found aldehyde in the unflavored liquid as well. Not only this, but the levels of aldehydes found in flavored liquids were up to an astonishing “10,000-fold higher” than the unflavored liquids.
Several tobacco control experts and organizations immediately took note of this discrepancy, and the fact this research contradicts previous research measuring aldehyde emissions. Dr. Farsalinos decided to take things a bit further and conduct his own replication study to uncover if these results were indeed a bizarre outlier. Of course, he and his team had to reach out to the authors of the original research and await their response before beginning as they had sloppily forgotten to record the brand they had used in their study. Thankfully by coincidence, they were able to find the manufacturer of the brands in question and begin their replication.
Dr. Farsalinos and his team replicated the study with the same model of vaporizer, using the same power settings of the original, while additionally testing similar flavors and a modern generation cig-a-like vaporizer. By examining a more comprehensive selection of e-liquids, including using different devices, the replication was even more thorough and able to capture a richer dataset than the original.
The team found that there were negligible levels of aldehyde emissions found in flavored e-liquid vapor, so insignificant in fact that if you consumed a whopping five grams of e-liquid per day, you would still be exposed to lower levels of aldehydes than just sitting around breathing the air in your own home. They found exposure to any toxic elements orders of magnitude lower than any established safety limits. To illustrate using direct data; they original study claimed to find up to 7000 ug/g of formaldehyde, while the replication found a maximum of only 62 ug/g, less than you’d find in the air of the room you’re currently sitting in.
While not as attractive as eye-catching salacious headlines, replication research is more critical now than ever. We live in a day and age where sensational studies and flawed findings are mindlessly parroted on social media as long as they fit pre-conceived notions and narratives. The result is even once well-respected researchers and institutions have sometimes intentionally tweaked their methodology to manipulate their data and results. The truth is they’re just looking for a headline to slap on a press release that will hopefully go viral, get them plenty of likes, and reduce their research to nothing more than a mindless thirty-second blurb on your local morning news show.
Reducing serious research regarding health into nothing more than fast-food science is a disservice to humanity as a whole. It undermines and insults the intelligence of the general public, and helps to create an ill-informed populace that may grow to mistrust science as a whole. Today show co-host Al Roker once stated, “I think the way to live your life is you find the study that sounds best to you and you go with that.” which I think encapsulates the problem with public perception perfectly. Thankfully we have well-respected researchers such as Dr. Farsalinos to conduct comprehensive research that delivers concrete conclusions to help set the record straight.
How do you feel about the social and political climate currently surrounding vaporizers? Do you believe sensationalist studies and flawed findings are harmful to the discussion? How do you feel about the importance of replication research? Feel free to answer any and all of these questions down in the comments, and don’t forget to connect with Cocktail Nerd on Facebook and Twitter!