Bacteria in Vape?

Posted 9th September 2016 by Dave Cross
Science 2.0 exists to, in their words, “modernise science communication, publishing, collaboration and public participation”. Some might be wondering how science has been served with their coverage of a supposed bacteria threat to vapers – and how their response promotes public participation.

“USDA microbiologist warns bacteria in vaping products may be a health concern,” writes an anonymous member of the News Staff. It comes following the publication of a paper titled Bacterial Populations Associated with Smokeless Tobacco Products.

After mentioning the recent coverage of the dangers of playing bagpipes (obviously cited as bagpipes could be a gateway to using a banjo in public, or something), the writer then states: “Part of the concern over microbial risk from vaping products - or pipes, but this is the government, they are talking about e-cigarettes, stems from the fact that users typically hold these products in their mouths in close contact with mucus membranes, for extended periods of time. So doing provides an opportunity for the user to be exposed to bacteria present in the product.”

So do vapers run the risk of succumbing to microorganisms lurking in drip tips or atomiser chambers? Is this what the team representing the Food & Drug Administration’s Divisions of Microbiology and Product Science are saying? In short: no.

The research, as could be concluded from its title, looked at “smokeless tobacco products”. The paper details the products they were concerned with: “Smokeless tobacco products have been considered by some consumers to be a ‘less risky’ alternative to smoking cigarettes, even though the use of STPs has been linked with an increased risk for the development of oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancers. There are multiple types of STPs sold in the United States, including snuff, snus, chewing tobacco, and some forms of dissolvable tobacco.”

Last week, we reported on a study that produced results mirroring those found in previous human trials, which reported no significant adverse respiratory effects resulting from e-cigarette use. This isn’t to say that there is no danger posed in long-term use of dirty equipment, but none of these pieces of research have provided any evidence to support a claim they do.


The Science 2.0 article drew comments from its readers; highlighting the probable lack of danger, Charles Parcells pointed out “Where are the reports of doctors treating illnesses caused by vaping?”

An anonymous reader added: “This article is an example of anti-vaping people taking a random news story and then trying to use it to bash vaping. Maybe you should have someone with an actual science degree write articles instead of this swill that you are trying to pass off as science. I am a medical professional with a license to practice in two states.”

And it is to his disservice that Hank Campbell, Science 2.0’s founder, saw fit to reply: “The image problem with the vaping community is that proponents smack of zealotry. This is a great example. Did propylene glycol damage your brain, because telling a USDA microbiologist they don't know science but you do, despite showing any evidence, looks strange. Did you, unspecified medical professional, actually read anything in the article? Be honest, you only read the title.”

The comments, be they from vapers or non-vapers, are valid because the research had nothing to do with vaping and yet managed to link it in. No wonder some vapers get upset with media coverage – and the attitudes people have to them commenting. Is this really an example of encouraging “public participation”?

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, motorbikes, and dog walker
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