The first in a series of idle blogs in which I examine some of the common vape myths, or claims made about vaping in the press. On first examination some appear sinister and worrying and require further investigation. Others are spurious and ridiculous and deserve merciless mockery for being so blatantly stupid.
Popcorn Lung – Not as tasty as it sounds?
Passive Vaping – Attack of the killer second hand doughnut scented clouds?
Dripping Evils – New and dangerous vaping trend?
Vaping causes popcorn lung
Sounds nasty right? Popcorn lung refers to a respiratory condition called bronchiolitis obliterans. The slang ‘popcorn’ might have you thinking that your lungs turn into something resembling Butterkist. Scary stuff, but bronchiolitis obliterans is actually a form of scarring to the airways in the lungs reducing their capacity to convey air. The reference to popcorn comes from a 2002 report regarding eight cases of the incurable lung condition diagnosed in people who had worked in a Missouri popcorn factory. Between 1992 and 2000 these individuals had inhaled unsafe amounts of the chemical Diacetyl, a buttery flavouring often used in popcorn manufacture.
Where does vaping come into this?
In August 2016 a bunch of irresponsible click-bait websites published a story about how e-cigarettes could cause popcorn lung alongside gruesome pictures of an unfortunate man in hospital breathing through a tube, and sporting a badly injured face and mouth. People assumed the man pictured was suffering from this nasty lung disease, panic stations were at red alert, and all hell broke loose. What the sites failed to say was that the man in question was suffering injuries inflicted after the battery in his e-cig device exploded. Furthermore, the cause of the accident was user error, not through any fault in the device or battery.
However, the story was picked up by more mainstream media who immediately linked it to a 2015 report on flavourings in e-juice in which it was found that many sweet e-juices contained more Diacetyl than was strictly necessary or safe. Worrying, it would seem so BUT what the media stories failed to mention was that the presence of Diacetyl in e-juice was no big secret within vaping. The 2015 report by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos (an advocate of scientific research into the effects of vaping and e-cigarettes) had already been brought to the attention of the vaping industry and been acted on accordingly.
So even before the press and members of the anti-vape lobby had started bawling for e-cig regulations, most e-juice manufacturers had already started to reduce (or completely remove) Diacetyl in their e-liquid flavourings in an act of self regulation.
Furthermore, in amongst all of the media hate aimed at vaping, no one seemed to be interested in actual facts. For example, cigarettes contain an amount of Diacetyl far in excess of any e-liquid. One cigarette is estimated to contain as much or more Diacetyl than you would inhale in a full day of vaping. Considering that, most e-liquids are now Diacetyl free anyway, you might think that the media may have thought to include that buttery nugget of information. The scandalmongers also forgot to mention that the symptoms presented by bronchiolitis obliterans are very similar to those of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). This is a condition commonly attributed to smoking. Begging the question of how many smokers have seemingly died because of COPD when they may have actually been suffering from bronchiolitis.
Thus far, no diagnosis of bronchiolitis obliterans has ever been directly linked to vaping, and seeing as it is a disease with a quick onset rate, the chances are that if there was any such link there would have been at least one case identified by now.
So, popcorn lung – there may be a kernel of truth buried away in this horror story – ‘kernel’ heh – see what I did there? But awful puns aside, I am calling this myth well and truly busted!
Onto the next….
Passive vaping is as harmful as passive smoking
For me the amount of cloud I produce while vaping is an annoyance. Unfortunately I enjoy an airy, warm, direct lung hit. Using smooth sweet high VG juice at a moderately high wattage. When I vape indoors I feel as if I should equip the cats with hazard lights, and issue low visibility warnings. I am more conscious of my vaping ‘emissions’ indoors in a way I never was when I smoked tobacco. Even though I know it’s dumb, I constantly worry that people might think that I am somehow poisoning them with my ‘obnoxious’ second-hand vape.
What the ‘experts’ say
The anti-vaping ‘experts’ and the media, have been quick to trumpet the potential dangers of inhaling second-hand vapour. The World Health Organisation (WHO) even suggested that the use of all electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) indoors should be banned by law. This was due to concerns that they could be as toxic to bystanders as cigarettes.
Trouble is, when you’re vaping the cloud produced is way more visible than cigarette smoke. It also smells a whole lot better than ciggies which makes it more noticeable to other people and ironically leads to a lot more hate from those so inclined to complain about their right to breathe ‘fresh air’. This usually comes from people standing at a bus stop, at the side of a busy road. Especially when you’ve made a conscious decision to vape 20 feet downwind of them so as not to pollute their carbon monoxide filled ‘fresh air’ with the scent of sweet apple doughnuts while you wait for the bus to arrive.
Vapour is more visible than ciggie smoke, and therefore more annoying to some people. Does this mean that it is actually harmful in any meaningful way though?
Well to all the haters out there. I would say that just coz you can see it doesn’t mean that it is worse.
The chemical structure of vapour produced by e-cigarettes is very simple in comparison to smoke from cigarettes. Comprised primarily of larger molecules, vapour is easily seen, and avoided. Conversely, 80% of cigarette smoke is invisible to the naked eye and lingers longer. Seeing as cigarette smoke contains over 4,500 chemicals, many of which are irritants or toxins, of which 50+ are known to cause cancer. I’d say that cigarette smoke is far more sinister and threatening. Gimme something I can see, and waft away with a magazine, than something that is invisible and going to hang about in the room unseen for ages.
So YAY…at least you can run away from second hand vapour! Sadly that isn’t always a practical way to avoid the danger. Hang on, what ARE the dangers of second-hand vapour anyway?
Well, to be honest there doesn’t appear to be much danger attached to passive vaping that isn’t associated with lazy reporting, and biased scientific studies. The general medical consensus is that there is little or no harm presented to others from second hand vapour at all.
“Current state of knowledge about the chemistry of liquids and aerosols associated with electronic cigarettes indicates that there is no evidence that vaping produces inhalable exposures to contaminants of the aerosol that would warrant health concerns.” (BMC, Jan 2014)
“There is a large body of evidence suggesting that e-cigarettes are relatively harmless to the people who use them, making claims about the dangers of second-hand exposure even more spurious — especially in well-ventilated outdoor spaces where people can easily move away from someone using the product.” (Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Dec 2013)
When compared to second hand cigarette smoke, second hand vape is so inoffensive it is difficult to figure out why passive vaping should even be considered an issue. A dog fart is probably more toxic, and certainly smells worse.
The only ‘harmful’ element shared by cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapour is the nicotine. Nicotine levels are very much lower in vape aerosol. Furthermore, the actual level of threat to health presented by nicotine is very much subject to debate. Tobacco and e-juice are not the only consumables that contain nicotine. Some very common foodstuffs do too, aubergines and potatoes for example, albeit in lower levels. It might also come as a surprise to learn that nicotine is believed to be helpful in the treatment of numerous medical conditions. These include Alzheimer’s Disease and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Nicotine is the most recognizable ingredient of tobacco, regardless of the thousands of other chemicals found in cigarettes. Therefore it has become unfairly maligned, and incorrectly associated with smoking related illnesses.
In conclusion, passive vaping as a danger to others is just another example of the general trend of demonising of vaping. Still, that is not an excuse to chuff out clouds in other folk’s air space and expect them to like it.
Be considerate to others, my fellow vapers – we get enough bad press as it is.
Lets finish up on a high note, just for giggles. This is my favourite vape myth of this year (so far), so let’s look at the claim that….
Dripping is the demonic all-new vaping trend currently corrupting teenage bodies and minds!
The heinous practice of dripping was first brought to the attention of the mainstream news media in early February 2017. By a health ‘professional’ no less! After surveying 7,000 Connecticut high school students, Dr. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin of Yale University and colleagues reported that,
“E-cigarettes are also being used for ‘dripping,’ which involves vaporizing the e-liquid at high temperatures by dripping a couple of drops of e-liquid directly onto an atomizer’s coil and then immediately inhaling the vapor that is produced”
OMG, that’s really a thing!?
Dripping e-liquid directly onto a coil?
Who’d have thunk it?
Told you this was a good one. Try not to laugh. Apparently this ‘new’ practice caused alarm among some medical ‘professionals’.
‘Experts’ were immediately concerned that research, showing that increased toxins and carcinogens that are created when the liquid in e-cigarettes is vapourised at high temperatures, would prove to be an increased health risk. Krishnan-Sarin was quick to jump on this point claiming that,
“the levels of some chemicals like formaldehyde and other aldehydes, which are known carcinogens, are higher with direct dripping than with conventional e-cigarette use,”
What she and the other ‘experts’ fail to mention is that the study they base their claims on has been shown to be highly problematic. The temperatures required in the lab to create such toxic emissions from e-liquid was beyond what commercially available vaping equipment is capable. Or indeed what a normal set of lungs could realistically inhale. Thus, their findings are not comparable with the actual aerosol emissions created by vaping. Even vaping at higher wattages/temperatures, the two are not even similar.
Further lolz were provided by the New York Times, and other news agencies. Claims were made that the act of dripping was some kind of ‘e-cigarette hack’. I mean, why would you got to the trouble of pulling an atomiser to bits so you can drip directly onto the coil when Rebuildable Dripping Atomisers (RDAs) have been available for ages and have been about for longer than the tanks and atomisers that most non-vapers think of when they think of e-cigarettes?
If ever there was a vaping story to prove for the last time, that certain media outlets, along with so-called scientists and experts of little professional integrity, are out to demonise vaping then this could be it. Leads you to wonder WHY demonising vaping is so commonplace. Overwhelming evidence exists disproving such spurious claims. I guess the media just loves a scandal and actual factual research would just spoil a good headline. It is the motives of the medical professionals who are supposed to have the truth and the public’s health at heart that chills me the most. I can only suppose that it is laziness, greed, or maybe both, that guides their motives. You may draw your own conclusions on the matter…but keep on cloud busting!