A group of Spanish researchers found themselves under fire for producing an anti-vaping study with claimed results that did not match their findings. Even though it contradicted previous research, it’s not surprising that they made these claims, considering that negative e-cig research gets BIG media attention. The research was published in the research journal Current Environmental Health earlier this month, and claims that “secondhand smoke” produced by e-cigs is dangerous due to the release of particulate matter.
The study’s inaccurate and misleading conclusion reads like this:
In addition to the literature results, our empirical results support that e-cigarette use in real conditions emit [small particulate matter], although these are notably lower than those from conventional cigarettes as also shown in previous studies. These results add new information to characterize secondhand exposure to e-cigarette emissions and warrant further research using sensitive particle monitors to assess longer periods of time. Additional research is needed assessing these relevant chemicals and potential new ones across a variety of e-cigarette devices as well as measuring personal biological markers among exposed people.
There is only one problem here in the way the conclusion presents the findings: the actual study showed no real increase in small particulate matter in homes of vapers over houses of non-smokers. The difference is actually so small that it could be considered in the margin of error.
Particulate matter is measured in two sizes: either less than 2.5 micrometers or 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter. While there can be larger particulate matter, researchers believe in most cases only particles less than 10 micrometers can be inhaled directly into the lungs and become carcinogenic.
The particulate matter found in smoke (and possibly in vapor) is smaller than 2.5 micrometers. This is where the researchers claimed they found higher levels in homes where vapers were present. In a non-smoking home, the two homes studied measured levels at 9.36 and 9.53 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The levels of particulate matter in the smoker’s home were 60 times higher, at 572.52 mcg.
Researchers also looked at a vaper’s home, where they found particulate levels of 9.88 micrograms per cubic meter, less than six percent higher than the lowest measurements found in the non-smoking homes. Well within the margin of error, the dubious conclusion of these researchers has led many to believe that they purposely skewed the findings to show their intended (anti-vaping) result.
Response to the Study
Greek cardiologist and leading e-cigarette researcher Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos slammed the misleading study in a blog post on his website:
The Spanish study is a classical and obvious example of misinterpretation of study findings. Their conclusion should be that PM2.5 levels in a home of a vaper are hardly distinguishable from a home of a non-smoker, and significantly lower from the levels in a smoker’s home.
Farsalinos also noted that the study lacked controls on various environmental factors, which could have easily accounted for variances in the levels of particulate matter found between the homes of the vapers and non-smokers surveyed for the study.
While the study has attracted a good deal of criticism, there may be some slight increases in the amount of particulate matter in the air while e-cigarettes are being used. The study did find that particulate matters did increase for a short period of time after vapor was exhaled, however levels returned quickly to near those of the non-smoking homes within minutes. In the case of the smoking household, levels of particulate matter stayed high for almost the entire observational period.
Boston University School of Public Health professor Dr. Michael Siegel summed up the actual findings of the data in the study in a short, but concise message:
The truth is that exposure to the e-cigarette aerosol is no more “toxic” than baseline exposure in a completely smoke-free, vape-free home. In other words, in terms of fine particulate matter exposure, secondhand vaping appears to represent no risk.
So far, the original researchers have yet to publicly comment on the reaction to the study.