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The closing research news on e-cigs for 2015 is also among the worst

30, Dec, 2015

By Tom Pruen

2015 has seen a huge surge in e-cig related research, and most of it has been quite good, although generally accompanied by a press release that presents it as being quite bad. This latest publication however combines severe methodological problems with a press release that isn’t just misleading – it is out and out dishonest. Let’s not mince words – some of what was said is a lie, and proven to be so by the research itself.

So first of all, let’s look at the methodology problem (since this is one aspect that doesn’t appear to have been covered in any of the other blogs on this subject of which there are several, and I’d particularly recommend this, this, this and this), the scale of which is actually impossible to determine – in and of itself a sign of awful planning at the experimental design stage.

Here’s what the methodology section says about how the vapour samples were generated:

“E-cigarette vapor was pulled through media using negative pressure, and the resulting extract was filter-sterilized with a 0.2µm pore-size filter before treating cell cultures.”

Here’s what is not described in the method:

  1. Hardware – No mention is made of what hardware was used to generate the vapour. No mention of what design the hardware was, its resistance, or how much power was supplied to it.
  2. Topography – How long were the puffs? How long between puffs? How many puffs were taken per cartomiser/tank? Was the number of puffs plausible for the design?
  3. Were the emissions generated in a sensible, realistic way, or was there dry burning (leading to huge emissions of carcinogens – an effect described in the literature back in 2013)? This could have been easily established by conducting an analysis of the vapour condensate for carbonyls, but this was not done.


Effectively, this leaves us with no information at all on the sampling methods, making this research incomplete and unrepeatable. That is not how science is supposed to be conducted.

Then we move on to the bit that I cannot consider to be anything other than deliberate dishonesty, and which is covered in some of the blogs linked above. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Jessica Wang-Rodriquez is quoted in the press release as saying:

“Based on the evidence to date," she says, "I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes”

However, the research paper itself has this snippet, which didn’t attract the attention of any of the media outlets who reported the study. (I can only assume they based the story entirely on the press release, and neglected reading the actual study):

“Treatment media was replaced every three days with 1% e-cigarette extract. Because of the high toxicity of cigarette smoke extract, cigarette-treated samples of each cell line could only be treated for 24 h.”

So the cells were being constantly exposed to the vapour condensate for periods of multiple days, with the solution refreshed every 3 days, but only for 24 hours to cigarette smoke condensate because it was too toxic.

Despite the massive difference in exposure, the cigarette smoke extract scored as high or higher on most of the measured outcomes:


This is reported as:

“Cigarette smoke extract led to the highest number of DSBs in HaCaT and HN30 cell lines, but were not significantly higher than V2 nic 1%.”

Except, of course that the exposures were completely different!

This research clearly demonstrates that while there may be some risks associated with e-cig use (although given the methodology problems, and the use of unrealistic exposures, the extent of this risk cannot be estimated), they are clearly significantly less than those of being exposed to cigarette smoke.

It seems to me that anyone who claims otherwise is either a liar or an idiot, and given that this ‘news’ was reported just in time for the annual surge in people trying to stop smoking as a New Year resolution, has a dangerous disregard for the health of smokers - many of whom may be deterred from trying e-cigarettes as a demonstrably (including by this research!) less dangerous alternative to tobacco smoking, because they believe these lies.

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