The renowned tobacco control expert recently called a study connecting vaping with COPD pure “science fiction”
One of the biggest fights for vaping, on its long journey for public acceptance, has been fighting against misinformation. Whether it’s from lobbyists or the media, the general public has been fed masses of misinformation about these harm reduction products. Rumors and conspiracy theories have abounded from e-liquids being laced with formaldehyde and antifreeze, to false statistics about vaping increasing risk of COPD and a condition called wet lung. The claims are outrageous and have no scientific evidence behind them.
The damage each of these rumors does to the reputation of vaping is very detrimental, and in turn is damaging to vaping as a smoking cessation and harm reduction tool. Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Greece, is well versed in this topic, having done almost a decade of research on the true effects of vaping and e-cigarettes. He is once again standing up against false claims, hoping to slow the spread of misinformation that could do further damage to vaping’s reputation.
The ATS Study
The study that Farsalinos is speaking out against was published on the American Thoracic Society’s website. The report, entitled E-Cigarette Use Is Associated with Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis and COPD, aimed to connect COPD with vaping. The researchers worked with the analyzed medical history of 17 participants, including how they came to be diagnosed with COPD and when they became e-cigarette users. As the title suggests, the researchers heavily implied the use of e-cigarettes was the cause or at the very least a significant contributor to the diagnosis of the patients.
That’s where Dr. Farsalinos’ came in. He’s gained a respected reputation in the vaping community over the last ten years by conducting replication studies on potentially misleading research. His results, along with many other notable and peer-reviewed scientists, is that vaping is substantially safer than smoking. In fact, a now famous study by the UK’s Public Health England concluded that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking.
One of the most significant examples of misleading research from this study brought forward by Farsalinos was that of a 64-year-old retired naval mechanic. According to the researchers, he smoked between three and four packs of cigarettes every day from the time he was 16 years old. To be clear, that is between 60 and 80 cigarettes a day, every day, for almost 50 years.
In 2001 this gentleman was diagnosed with COPD but he did not quit smoking. In 2011 he was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. He continued to smoke during the cancer treatments, though he did cut back to 3 cigarettes a day. However, once the treatments were over, he returned to his three packs a day habit. In 2013, 12 years after the COPD diagnosis and two years after cancer, he attempted to switch to a 2nd generation e-cigarette but found no success with it. The patient’s health continued to decline, and he was put on oxygen therapy. It was at this time that the gentleman found success quitting smoking by switching to a 3rd generation e-cigarette. From that point on the patient’s health improved a great deal.
“The above,” said Dr. Farsalinos, “is a real case of a smoker who developed serious medical conditions BEFORE he initiated e-cigarette use” Somehow the authors of this study still implied throughout the article there is a link between the illnesses and the use of e-cigarettes. “People who smoke and develop smoking-related disease at some point become desperate and try e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking.” says Farsalinos, but this does not constitute “proof of a ‘link’ between e-cigarettes and disease.”
Farsalinos points to one sentence, buried in the study, which appears to roll back the original claims: “Due to the fact that the data is cross-sectional, it is unknown whether E-cigs could contribute to COPD development, or if people who have COPD are more likely to use E-cigs (possibly as a harm reduction method).” This sentence appears to contradict much of the ATS study’s findings. The statistics clearly show that the switch to vaping and e-cigarettes helps with several severe symptoms related to COPD. But rather than share this information, which is supported by a plethora of other studies, these particular authors chose to bury it.
Improved public perception of vaping and e-cigarettes is crucial, especially when so many countries are currently working out how to treat these products legally. Dr. Farsalinos is an excellent ally in that fight, bringing to light the biased nature of many anti-vaping studies. Shining the light on biased and unsupported information will ultimately help vaping become more accepted as a harm reduction and cessation tool. After all, research shows that not only is vaping at least 95% safer than smoking, but it’s actually the best smoking cessation tool we currently have at our disposal, even beating out prescription drugs. So if we as a society truly value the end of the smoking epidemic, we need to be supporting vaping, not using poor research design to make it look dangerous.
Is Dr. Farsalinos doing good work by calling into question poorly constructed research? Why do you think some are trying to hurt the image of vaping? How can we support vaping as a harm reduction and smoking cessation tool? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.