Vaping and Mouth Ulcers

Posted 21st June 2017 by Dave Cross
In a much-heralded piece of research, in the dubious parts of the media, Doctor Irfan Rahman claims that his team, from the University of Rochester, has discovered a link between vaping and mouth ulcers. The team make fundamental errors in their approach to the study and their findings count for little in the real world.

The University of Rochester has been the centre of a number of (what are considered to be) anti-vape studies. It is possible that the institution simple suffers from a lack of understanding of what vaping is and how it works – this certainly comes across in Rahman’s study.

A mouth ulcer is a common ailment, typically caused by a tear, reaction to a food, a deficiency in iron or vitamin B12, or related to a problem with physical health. Smokers notice that they frequently suffer from mouth ulcers when transitioning to non-smoking, during quit attempts. It’s been noted that many think vaping is causing the ulceration but go on to discover that the mouth ulcers vanish as they do for people quitting smoking using other techniques.

The actual study is an acceptable piece of scientific research, albeit one that only produces results that it was designed to discover – not results that are related to real-world vaping. Step one in their research ought to have been asking vapers if mouth ulcers frequently beset them; the study could have stopped at this point as the answer would have been largely ‘no’.

Instead, they released the report and provided a press release so the Daily Mail could erroneously write: “Electronic cigarettes can stop wounds from healing, experts have warned. A study found that chemicals in the devices can impair the processes that allow the body to repair itself.”

By using a process of obtaining vapour that failed to reflect how vapers vape, and then exposing it to cultivated cells in petri dishes (again, failing to reflect how vapour interfaces with the oral cavity), Rahman’s team have leapt too far in their conclusions and become just one more negative voice fading against the growing noise of harm reduction.


In the abstract, they write: “Electronic-cigarettes (e-cigs) represent a significant and increasing proportion of tobacco product consumption, which may pose an oral health concern.” Tobacco product consumption? The good doctor is either blissfully unaware that there is no tobacco in eliquid or is being duplicitous.

“While it is perceived that they may be less harmful than conventional smoking,” Rahman says, “our data shows e-cigarettes can lead to other health issues apart from lung damage.”

What? Health issues ‘other than lung damage’? Doctor Rahman really ought to have relied on more than two hugely discredited mouse studies before making this laughable statement. But then, if he were serious about this work, he wouldn’t make leaps of judgement based on unrealistic drowning of cell cultures in vapour clouds.

Fortunately, the Mail cite Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health saying: “Studies like this one are misleading because they don’t compare the impact of vaping with smoking. It’s the smoke that does most if not all of the damage, not the nicotine. Sadly that message isn’t getting through - nearly a quarter of smokers who haven’t tried vaping say they’re unwilling to because of concerns e-cigarettes are not safe enough. We would always recommend smokers to quit completely but for those who can’t then vaping is much lower risk than carrying on smoking.”

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