While it’s well understood that second-hand smoke can lead to cancer, more and more research shows that this is not the case for second-hand vaping
Concerns over the safety of vaping have existed for nearly as long as e-cigarettes themselves. Over the years they have become more sophisticated; markedly more powerful and safe than the early generations. In spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary, many governments and public health organizations continue to regulate e-cigarettes as if they were as harmful as traditional cigarettes. Between the rigid policies in most countries and headline-seeking media outlets, the efficacy of vaping is almost continually called into question.
Some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the safety of vaping are about the risk posed by second-hand vapor. Perhaps this is so common because, indeed, the two practices are very similar visually. But most studies of this question have found that vaping and smoking are entirely different regarding the potential harm, with vaping being over 90% safer. In spite of this, most of the media has continued to make flashy headlines out of a particular small-scale scale study that claims vaping deposits just as many harmful substances into the air as smoking does.
The oft-referenced negative study was published in a 2014 issue of the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. The researchers maintain that even in heavily ventilated rooms, vaping can increase the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the air by 20% as well as doubling the amount of aluminum. Not only that, but they also claimed that several other harmful substances were detected at abnormally high levels.
Critics of this study say that many important pieces of the test were left unaccounted for, including the type of vaporizer used and even things as crucial as nicotine strength and instructed exposure times. In addition to the questionable research methodology, the sample size was also extremely small; only nine participants observed for six sessions. These sorts of decisions by researchers can significantly affect the outcomes they report, whether intentional or not. So it is very reasonable to wonder why they were omitted.
Earlier this year, a much larger scale study was published by San Diego State University. They too were taking a look at the number of harmful substances that vaping introduces into the air. Their testing included over 300 households in the San Diego area, where they installed devices that recorded levels of potentially dangerous materials. What they found was that the concentrations in houses that allowed indoor vaping was virtually the same as levels recorded in non-smoking households. This was compared with a drastic increase in the level of harmful substances recorded in smoking homes.
A similar study was conducted several years ago, a full year before the questionable research was published. The 2013 study by researchers at Drexel University took a look at over 9,000 pieces of data, collected from several large studies on vaping and air quality. What they found was that there was “no evidence that vaping produces inhalable exposures to contaminants of the aerosol that would warrant health concerns by the standards that are used to ensure safety of workplaces.” This indicates that even by some of the more strict standards, vaping does not present a cause for alarm. But yet the much smaller scale study that came later is more often referenced in the media.
There are still those that believe second-hand vaping is as dangerous as second-hand smoke, but those people are simply wrong. The majority of reputable scientists agree that vaping is in fact, a whole lot safer than smoking. A Public Health England study found that vaping is at least 95% safer than tobacco. This figure has since become the standard, but the number does vary from expert to expert.
What is entirely certain is that vaping and smoking are not the same. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of different chemicals and substances, many of which are known carcinogens. E-liquids, on the other hand, are only made of four main components, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine, and the flavorings used. Nicotine is the by far the most dangerous substance in e-liquids, and many researchers agree that nicotine alone is comparable in risk to caffeine.
It’s become clear that the public is more drawn to negative stories about vaping than positive ones. Whatever the cause, the result is the same. Poorly constructed studies that claim to link vaping with adverse health effects gain traction a lot easier than long-term and large-scale studies indicating substantial harm reduction. This struggle will only continue to make proving the value of vaping that much harder, but it also makes succeeding that much more critical.
What do you think makes people respond to negative studies more than positive ones? Do you think that researchers are actively skewing their testing to get desired results? Is it vital that we begin to change the mind of the public in regards to the benefits of vaping over smoking? Let us know in the comments.