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This Is How E-Cigarette News Gets Spun to Mislead the Public

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’ve probably heard the term “fake news” before. While I don’t agree with the idea that all news presented by mainstream media is fake, when it comes to vaping, the media has been playing a big part in spreading misinformation. In this article I want to offer you an example of how news websites can take a perfectly reasonable, objective study and use it as a weapon against electronic cigarettes.

SMOK-AL85-sizeYesterday, the The John Hopkins News-Letter, a student paper of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, published an article titled “E-Cigarettes Increase Risk of Cardiac Arrest“. I was surprised to find that the story was based on a recent study by researchers at the University of California,  published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. 

In the opening paragraph, the author claimed that “electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are thought to be a healthier alternative to the traditional tobacco cigarettes, but recent evidence shows otherwise.” Remember that, it’s important.

The article than mentioned that according to this new study “puffing an e-cigarette that delivers nicotine not only triggers addiction but can also lead to an increased risk in cardiac arrest and possibly cardiac death.” Pretty scary sounding stuff, right?

“Recurring exposure to nicotine leads to a prolonged state of an increased heart rate that, in the long run, can lead to an abnormal heart rate variability (HRV), which is the time interval between heart beats. This is detrimental because stress put on the heart increases the risk of experiencing a heart attack or a stroke,” the author wrote.

At this point, I decided to read the actual study.

Apparently, Dr. Holly Middlekauff, senior study author and professor of medicine (cardiology) and physiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted an experiment on 33 healthy non-vapers and non-smokers, to study the effects of nicotine on their hearts.

Participants came to her laboratory on three different days and were invited to puff an e-cigarette with nicotine on one day, a nicotine-free e-cigarette on another and an empty e-cigarette on the last day. Each session consisted of 60 puffs in 30 minutes, with an observation period of four weeks between each session.

After analyzing the data, researchers found that:

  • Exposure to e-cigarettes with nicotine, but not e-cigarettes without nicotine, led to increased adrenaline levels to the heart, as indicated by abnormal heart rate variability.
  • Oxidative stress, which increases risks for atherosclerosis and heart attack, showed no changes after exposure to e-cigarettes with and without nicotine. The number of markers they studied for oxidative stress were minimal, however, and more studies are warranted

“Our study showed that acute electronic cigarette use with nicotine increases cardiac adrenaline levels. And it’s in the same pattern that is associated with increased cardiac risk in patients who have known cardiac disease, and even in patients without known cardiac disease. I think that just seeing this pattern at all is very concerning and it would hopefully discourage nonsmokers from taking up electronic cigarettes,”

But, see, that’s the thing, Dr. Holly Middlekauff never claimed that electronic cigarettes are not a healthier to smoking tobacco, as the The John Hopkins News-Letter article leads readers to believe, quite the contrary.

“The way I think about it is that if you currently smoke tobacco cigarettes, switching to e-cigs may be a better choice, at least from the data we have,” Middlekauff said in a press release. “But, if you don’t smoke at all, I would strongly advise that you not start using e-cigarettes, because they are not harmless.”

Nobody ever said they were, and if they did, they were lying. Yes, we’ve long known that nicotine, like other stimulants, increases blood pressure and heart rate, but that doesn’t mean they cause heart attacks, and it certainly doesn’t make e-cigarettes as dangerous as analogs. Dr. Holly Middlekauff merely showed that unless you’re trying to quit smoking, there’s no good reason to start vaping, because it is not completely safe. But compared to smoking, they are a lot safer.

So the next time you read an e-cigarette article based on scientific research, make sure you read the actual study to get the full picture and not some reporter’s biased opinion.

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