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E-Cigarettes Unsafe: Claim in Study Unsubstantiated

Date Posted: December 9, 2011

Based on reader’s comments, it is clear that a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Riverside is raising eyebrows. The study examined e-cigarettes, their contents/ingredients and possible adverse side effects. After their analysis, the team concluded that the devices were unsafe, that they posed a health risk and advised they be taken off-the-market pending further evaluations.

To address safety concerns over the use of e-cigarettes, the team of researchers evaluated 5 commercially available brands and found design flaws, lack of adequate labeling and several concerns about control and health issues. Based on their findings, the team determined that the devices were potentially harmful and they urged regulators to consider removing e-cigs from the market.

In their study, the researchers made the following contentions:

  • Batteries, atomizers, cartridges, cartridge wrappers, packs and instruction manuals lack important information regarding electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) contents, use and essential warnings.
  • ENDS cartridges leak, thereby creating the potential for unwanted nicotine exposure to children, adults, pets and the environment.
  • There are currently no methods for proper disposal of ENDS products and accessories, including cartridges.
  • Data indicate that regulation of manufacturing, quality control, sales and advertisement of ENDS is needed.

While the study’s findings were published and discussed extensively, they drew massive criticism from readers who said this was a typical case of science by press conference.  Indeed, some readers agreed with the fact that cartridges sometimes leaked and that labeling could improve but overall they widely disagreed with the claims made by the study’s authors.  In fact, many called out the study, saying it was poorly executed.

Dr Michael Siegel, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health said the following regarding the study: “Had the study in question actually evaluated the safety of electronic cigarettes, by analyzing the constituents of the e-cigarette vapor or the health effects of the product on users, then it would be appropriate for the researchers to disseminate a conclusion about the safety or lack of safety of electronic cigarettes. But I think it is irresponsible to disseminate such a conclusion when the study provided no information on the safety of using the product.”

The consensus was that due to flawed conclusions, misleading information was being spread. “None of the flaws reported by the study, for example, that e-cigarettes are unregulated, that the cartridges sometimes leak, and that the instruction manuals are incomplete, demonstrate that electronic cigarettes are hazardous to users. They merely demonstrate that there is a potential risk associated with the use of the product.”  In fact, the study did not measure the actual levels of toxic chemicals and / or carcinogens in the vapor emitted by e-cigarette neither did it study the health effects among users. Hence, how can the authors plausibly conclude that electronic cigarette are unsafe and pose health risks?

“Spreading to the public a possibly false conclusion could be extremely damaging to the public’s health. If it turns out that electronic cigarettes are much safer than regular ones, and that they are very useful in smoking cessation, then this mistake [] could be devastating. It could literally cost thousands of lives.”

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