The team from the Department of Environmental Medicine and the Department of Urology at the New York University School of Medicine conflated smoking with vaping, conducted petri dish experiments which would prove water kills cells (if they’d substitute that for eliquid), and promoted their work with a distinctly skewed summary.
Peter Hajek was the only expert quoted at the time: “This study shows nothing at all about the dangers of vaping. It doesn’t show that vaping causes cancer. This is one in a long line of false alarms, which may be putting people off the switch from smoking to vaping, which would undoubtedly be of great benefit to them. The best current estimate is that vaping poses, at worst, some 5% of risks of smoking.”
Tom Chivers then took up the baton with a powerful piece in The Telegraph: “If you smoke, and want to live a long life, stop smoking. If you want to stop smoking, you will probably find it easier to quit if you turn to e-cigarettes, or vaping. Vaping is not completely harmless but it is far, far, far less harmful for you than smoking.”
“If you don’t take anything else away from this article,” he continues, “remember those three sentences, because it is a medium-sized public health disaster that people are forgetting the last two.”
The piece illustrates the importance of obtaining actual input from respected experts in their field before running with salacious stories. Chivers spoke to them – the first being Linda Bauld. She told him “if you put human cells in a petri dish with Fairy liquid, they die. If you expose human cells to tobacco they’ll die far more quickly.”
The study was so bad that it is being attacked by organisations like Cancer Research. Michael Walsh writes: “They didn’t look at how it affected people. And they didn’t directly compare it to smoking.” He pointed out that the team leapt straight from observing damage on a plate of agar and in mice to making spectacular claims of human cancer.
Jasmine Just at Cancer Research UK said: “The evidence so far shows that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking. Research like this is important, but this lab study only looked at the effects of e-cigarette smoke on cells and on mice, which means it’s not possible to draw any conclusions from this about how e-cigarettes might affect people in real life.”
“Up to two-thirds of long term smokers will die because of their addiction, but e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco. Instead they contain nicotine, which is what keeps people addicted, but is not responsible for the major health harms from smoking. Research in people has shown that those who make a complete switch from smoking tobacco to e-cigarettes can significantly reduce their exposure to key harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke.”