In a recent comment submitted to the FDA, Santon Glanz, a hero of the fight against tobacco control turned fervent electronic cigarette opponent has claimed that in terms of effects on our pulmonary function, using e-cigarette may not be any less hazardous than smoking tobacco.
“Evidence that e-cigarette aerosol has the same effects on an important measure of lung function as cigarette smoke undermines the assumption that e-cigarettes are uniformly less risky than conventional cigarettes,” Dr. Glanz writes. He basis his assertion on a new study, “Short-term effects of electronic and tobacco cigarettes on exhaled nitric oxide,” by Sara Marini, which found that using electronic cigarettes, like smoking, results in lower levels of exhaled nitric oxide.
Based on this one finding, Glanz thinks that “the FDA must be extremely careful about assuming that e-cigarettes uniformly pose less risk than conventional cigarettes.”
The fact that both nicotine containing and non-nicotine electronic cigarettes cause a degree of respiratory irritation, and probably even inflammation, has been common knowledge for some time now. Several studies have already proven that propylene glycol, the base of most e-liquids found on the market today, is a mild irritant and may cause some inflammation of the airways, so it’s most likely something the people at the Food and Drug Administration already knew.
However, there is ample evidence that electronic cigarettes do indeed have less of an effect on lung function and are generally safer than smoking. A Flouris study discovered that while smoking had a significant detrimental effect on our lungs, measured by spirometry,electronic cigarettes did not. Researchers showed that tobacco cigarettes have immediate, clinically meaningful effects in reducing lung function, but not e-cigs. “The assessment of lung function demonstrated that neither a brief session of active e-cigarette smoking nor a 1 hour passive e-cigarette smoking session significantly interfered with normal lung function. On the other hand, acute active and passive tobacco cigarette smoking undermined lung function, as repeatedly shown in previous studies,” the authors wrote, concluding that “e-cigarettes generate smaller changes in lung function but similar nicotinergic impact to tobacco cigarettes.”
Stanton Glanz obviously chose to ignore such studies, basing his damaging assertion on a single finding that really doesn’t mean very much by itself. Sure, the recent Martini study shows electronic cigarettes cause respiratory irritation, but what is the long-term clinical outcome of this effect? Luckily, although this kind of long-term research is scarce due to e-cigarettes being a relatively new invention, one such study has already been conducted.
A team of scientists led by Dr. Ricardo Polosa examined the changes in asthma symptoms among smokers who continue with their dirty habit compared to smokers who switch to electronic cigarettes. They found that replacing tobacco cigarettes with e-cigs actually resulted in harm reversal. Lung function, asthma control and asthma symptoms exhibited considerable improvement in smokers who switched to e-cigarettes, and even in those who became dual users of both tobacco and fake cigarettes.
If the above mentioned scientific evidence weren’t enough to combat Glantz’s statement, there’s also the issue of factors that cause a decrease in the levels of exhaled nitric oxide. They include asthma, allergies, body mass, stress, auto-immune disorders, high humidity and several others. Based on this theory, one could conclude that every one of these causes are just as bad for health as smoking. Does that sound right to you?
It’s pretty obvious that Stanton Glanz’s conclusions aren’t based on actual science, but, unfortunately, in this day and age, they don’t have to be. His conclusions are usually picked up by large news sites and presented to the masses as scientific facts. After all, the man does have a background in tobacco control, so he must know what he is talking about, right?
I wonder if Dr. Glantz realizes that such statements may have devastating effects on public health. Smokers who might be considering switching to e-cigarettes will probably give up on their plans thinking that if vaping is just as bad as smoking they might as well continue puffing on cigarettes. Even those who have already made the switch may be tempted to go back to their old ways since they are not really getting any health benefits from e-cigarettes. It’s quite sad, really…