Somedays bask an U.S. Surgeon General  issued a report on e-cigarettes and youth that focuses entirely on potential risks of teen and young adult use and in a study, Greek researcher Dr. Constantine Vardavas of the Center for Global Tobacco at Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study on the safety of electronic cigarettes. In brief, the study concluded that electronic cigarettes produce negative effects (e.g. impedance and resistance of respiratory flow and reduction of exhaled nitric oxide) after only short term use; however, the study methodology and the results have been brought into sharp questioning by other researchers.

Dr. Vardavas set out to prove that electronic cigarette manufacturers’ claims that e-cigs are harmless were untrue. The task at hand was to prove that after only 5 minutes of use, an e-cig would have a negative impact on the results of pulmonary function tests and the amount of exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) presented by adult nonsmokers in good health. Measurement of FeNO is typically used to determine the presence of eosinophilic airway inflammation in asthmatics. The amount of FeNO increases when an irritant or illness is present.

Dr. Vardavas methodology was as follows: 30 nonsmokers between the ages of 19 and 56 were chosen. Of these, 16 were women and 14 were men. All were in good health. The study was conducted in a laboratory rather than in a real life setting. The participants were divided randomly into an experimental group (20 using e-cigs with nicotine cartridge) and a control group (10 using e-cigs without nicotine cartridge).

The results of Dr. Vardavas experiment concluded that 5 minutes use of an electronic cigarette caused a reduction in FENO at a rate of 2.14 parts per billion; however, it did not cause this change in the control group. This would tend to indicate that the presence of nicotine might cause slight irritation (especially for a nonsmoker) which is actually a foregone conclusion.

From the results of this study, Dr. Vardavas concluded that the use of electronic cigarettes causes immediate adverse physiological effects that are similar to those caused by smoking old fashioned tobacco cigarettes. Furthermore, Dr. Vardavas concluded that more research is necessary to determine whether or not electronics cigarettes present any long-term threats.
What do other researchers and the authorities believe?

Like Dr. Vardavas, the vast majority of scientists and researchers, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believe that more research is required before any definite conclusions can be drawn. Many researchers feel that Dr. Vardavas’ experiment was sketchy and inconclusive.

Dr. Michael Siegel of the department of community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health found fault with the study, stating that it was inconclusive because it did not compare the effects of smoking old fashioned tobacco cigarettes with electronic cigarettes. Furthermore, rather than measuring all-important acute respiratory effects, the study only measured airway constriction.

Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) went so far as to dub Dr. Vardavas’ experiment “amateur propaganda” and said that he had questions in regards to the types of tests used to measure airway constriction. Dr. Ross pointed out that any inhaled substance will have an immediate effect on the airway. Furthermore, he stated that airway constriction, lung cancer and emphysema are not connected; therefore, a measurement of airway constriction is not pertinent. He said that the study could not logically lead one to believe that electronic cigarettes would cause long-term harm.

Dr. Josh Bloom, a colleague of Dr. Ross’ at ACSH, concurred that the fact that the experiment had not also been conducting using tobacco cigarettes rendered the study essentially worthless. In fact, he termed it “an agenda based report clumsily masquerading as science”. Dr. Bloom pointed out that in the end Dr. Vardavas’ apparent purpose was to recommend that people use “ proven methods” of smoking cessation such as drugs, patches and nicotine chewing gum.

Dr. Ross was quick to point out that these “proven methods” are actually proven not to work. With a recidivism rate of as much as 95%, Dr. Ross stated that advising smokers to rely on drugs, patches and nicotine chewing gum is essentially an abstinence-only, quit or die proposition.

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