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Poster presentation Causes “Defect” Stir

Researchers use poster presentation to relaunch their vape-related birth defect propaganda.

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“Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects,” states the Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) blurb from the press office. “E-cigarette aerosol exposure causes craniofacial abnormalities,” says a dental association. The truth of the matter, as always, is a casualty in the war for page hits and media coverage.

The subject matter is guaranteed to get media coverage, tabloid newspapers would be pushing each other out of the way. Vaping, pregnant women AND some pictures of gory birth defects? What is not to love for sub-editors everywhere?

Which raises the first question: if this is such an obvious runner for the average newspaper, with guaranteed shares and hits online, then how come nobody heard about it in September 2017?

Allyson Kennedy, Suraj Kandalam, Rene Olivares-Navarrete, and Amanda Dickinson published their paper, titled “E-cigarette aerosol exposure can cause craniofacial defects in Xenopus laevis embryos and mammalian neural crest cells”, on the PLOS 1 network.

PLOS (Public Library Of Science) has been on the end of a lot of criticism from scientists. Due to its budget nature and open access, many slate it for publishing papers that are either examples of poor science or outright pieces of sham science. They speak about how peer-review may extend as far as somebody picking up a spelling mistake – but this isn’t likely to happen often. Now known in many quarters as the ‘public library of sloppiness’, being published on PLOS is akin to self-publishing a novel.

This paper sailed out into the wider world, without anyone taking notice, until some of the team presented a poster at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Dental Research (AADR). The poster bore a snappy title: “E-cigarette Aerosol Exposure Causes Craniofacial Abnormalities in Mice”.

"In vivo exposure to e-cigAM (ecig aerosol mixture) during pregnancy decreased embryo number," Suraj Kandalam told the delighted dentists. “E-cigAM exposure also generated shape changes including narrowing and shortening of the orofacial area in RG and flavoured e-cigAMs. Significant differences in distance between the mandible and premaxilla and of the occipital bone in both research grade with and without nicotine were observed compared to control. The nut flavour with nicotine showed significant differences in all orofacial aspects as compared to control, including length of zygoma, premaxilla, malar process and mandible."

American dental associations don’t care where the paper was published, if the methodology failed to replicate actual use by pregnant mothers, or if the puff regime created toxins that aren’t produced during normal vaping. Nor do dental associations care for the possibility of scare stories ensuring that smoking mothers-to-be remain smokers.

The AADR fired off a press release, building on the one that VCU issued last year. They speak about health risks and dangers, they worry about light restrictions and the lack of adequate warnings, and they misrepresent the facts: “This means that if a chemical perturbs a frog embryo, it’s likely to do the same thing to a human embryo”.

Amanda Dickinson: “We observed that very complex e-liquids that mix flavors, such as berries and crème and other food-related flavorings, may have the most dramatic effect on the face.”

Vaping has been a widely practised activity since 2012, and the huge boom in numbers occurred in 2014. Over these years not a single incident has been logged of a baby born with craniofacial birth defects that has been attributed to vaping. This is because the environment created in the laboratory for frogs and mice was vastly different to that experienced by a human foetus in both the volume of substances and that nature of how they were exposed.

Neither the Virginia Commonwealth University nor the American Association for Dental Research were approached for comment.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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