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Vaping Cancer, Heart Disease Risk Overstated By Recent Research

Photo Credit: Max Pixel

Two recent study findings that were released to the media this month are just wild speculation, and possibly intentional misrepresentation, according to analysis by The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA).

In an as-yet-to-be-published (or peer reviewed) preliminary study, researchers looked at the saliva of just 5 vapers, testing for the presence of carcinogenic chemicals. Researchers found increased levels of formaldehyde, acrolein and methylglyoxal. They reportedly found “increased DNA damage” in the mouths of 4 of the participants.

Senior investigator Silvia Balbo, an assistant professor with the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, told reporters that, while she agrees that vaping is reasonably considered to be safer compared to combustible cigarettes, she doesn’t believe that being safe by comparison is “good enough.”

Balbo admitted that her study doesn’t prove that vaping causes cancer, only that it produces chemicals that damage DNA in ways that can possibly lead to cancer.

“This study cannot determine whether e-cigarettes are carcinogenic or are causing a risk for cancer,” she said. Balbo did not elaborate to the extent of the DNA damage, only that it was “higher” than in those who do not vape.

Of note, Dr. Norman Edelman of the American Lung Association commented on this study: “It’s quite clear there are chemicals in aerosol people inhale when they vape that are carcinogenic, but whether they’re going to cause cancer and to what degree is something we don’t know.”

“Dr. Balbo may feel that vaping being safe by comparison to combustible cigarettes ‘isn’t good enough,’ but we strongly disagree,” said Bruce Nye, RN, President of The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives (CASAA). “Harm reduction is a widely accepted practice, even when the risks are reduced only by a small amount,” he said.

“Seat belts in cars, bike helmets, “safe” sex using condoms and even clean needles for intravenous drug use are all examples of harm reduction,” Nye explained, “yet none of them reduce risks by more than half. For example, when used correctly, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to the front seat passenger in a car by only 45 percent, and reduces the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by only 50 percent, yet no one would be silly enough to suggest that seat belts not be worn because they aren’t 100% safe. With the science known today, vaping poses much less than 5% of the risk of smoking combustible cigarettes, but even if it is found to reduce the risks associated with smoking by just 25 percent, that still means potentially saving millions of lives!”

“Additionally,” Nye continued, “recent studies have shown that the vast majority of adult vapers are current or former smokers, so a comparison to smoking conventional cigarettes is just plain, good science.”

In the second study recently released to the media, senior study author and outspoken anti-vape advocate, Stanton Glantz. PhD, professor of medicine and director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, claims to have shown a link between vaping and increased heart attack risk.  The study, published Aug. 22, 2018, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, concluded that vaping doubled the risk of heart attack, while dual use (vaping without having yet quit smoking) increased the risk of having a heart attack five-fold.

According to the UCSF press release, the “analysis involved 69,452 people who were interviewed through National Health Interview Surveys in 2014 and 2016, a cross-sectional study in which in-person interviewers asked participants whether they had ever used e-cigarettes and/or cigarettes, and whether they had ever been told by a doctor or other health professional that they had had a heart attack.” However, researchers admitted that “it was not known whether the heart attacks occurred relative to e-cigarette use, and that some of the heart attacks that subjects reported are likely to have occurred before e-cigarettes became available in the U.S.

“Here we have a classic chicken or the egg scenario,” explained CASAA’s Nye. “Cross-sectional studies only give a snapshot of the time that the questions are asked. Researchers did not focus on heart attacks that happened after beginning the use of vapor products, only asking if the participants “ever” had a heart attack. Heart attacks that happened prior to using vapor products are completely irrelevant, yet in this case, those pre-vaping heart attacks are being used to calculate vaping risk. This is an error in temporality that would not be made by a first year student of epidemiology, let alone a distinguished professor on the subject.”

“Additionally,” he continued, “the increased incidence of heart attacks in vapers and dual users compared to never-users makes sense – if having a heart attack is what incentivized the survey participant to try to quit smoking with vapor products. It’s extremely important to note that order of events matters. If it did not, we could conclude that headaches are caused by aspirin, because aspirin is widely used by people with headaches.”

“So, are people having heart attacks because they vape, or – what I believe is more likely – are more smokers turning to vaping to quit smoking because they had a heart attack? The fact is, Dr. Glantz and his colleagues are making a fundamental error by claiming the former. I suspect that an anti-vaping bias has a lot to do with their conclusions.”