The Limitations Surrounding Vaping ‘Cell Death Study’

A Recent Vaping Study by University of Birmingham Was:

 1. In vitro – on individual cells under a microscope, not in a living person

2. From cells of just eight volunteers, a small and limited study group

3. Ineffective at making any comparison to the effect of cigarette smoke in the same conditions

Please Note: Published 17th August 2018 UK Government Releases Vaping Recommendations: 

“This is simply a cell study and does not compare with smoking. No further comments needed,” reply from Konstantinos Farsalinos – Research fellow at Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center and University of Patras 16/08/2018

Joe Dunne, Ireland’s Vaping Spokesperson has contacted several experts in relation to the study that has been highlighted in the press:

“[The study] wrongly claims that people think vaping is safe – most people actually think it as dangerous or more dangerous than smoking! There is no doubt that nicotine is an irritant in the lungs and causes inflammation. The big question that this study does not address is the relative level of risk compared with smoking,” Professor Robert West, Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London

This week the public will be once again alarmed by the sensationalist nature of a new study that claims there is cell death from using e-cigarettes. However, studies of this nature are not conclusive for several reasons.

Limitations of the Study

There are most salient limitations of this study:

1. The study was in vitro, which means on individual cells under a microscope, not in a living person

2. The study used cells from just eight volunteers, a small and limited study group

3.. It made no comparison to the effect of cigarette smoke in the same conditions

The Aims of The Study

Cells were taken from eight volunteers and then ‘exposed’ to an aerosol containing vapourised e-liquid. After exposing the cells for 24 hours, there was evidence of cell toxicity which had an impact on alveolar macrophages (white blood “dust cells”) which meant that they couldn’t function properly. The study concludes e-cigarette users may suffer from impaired bacterial clearance of lung tissue, potentially leading to irritation or infection, but acknowledges further research is required.

The study itself uses a lot of presumption and inference, “it could, this might”, and it also has a lot of further limitations, including the following quoted directly below:

“…we have used an in vitro study on primary AMs with exposure levels which may not be physiological”

“…it is difficult to determine an optimal dose of nicotine exposure”

“It is not possible to determine a standard nicotine dose for smoking experiments as each individual will titrate their nicotine intake to match their requirement.”

It means that this is preliminary research, and any speculation on e-cigarettes causing lung damage is a matter of conjecture. There is potentially no way to accurately ‘dose’ cells in the way people vape in the real world, and this is always the problem with this type of study. Vapers lungs are not full of vapour 24 hours a day, and interestingly several direct studies of human participants “in vivo” have already been carried out.

An observational study was published last year by Professor Riccardo Polosa in which the health impact of e-cigarettes was measured on a group of never before e-cigarette users. No significant changes could be detected in the lung function at the end of the 3.5 year period compared with the initial lung function of the participants.

“This finding is far more significant than a 24-hour cell line study in a petri dish,” commented Joe Dunne, Vaping Spokesperson for Ireland.

Professor John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies commented:

“The harsh truth is that smoking kills, and smokers who switch completely to electronic cigarettes are likely substantially to reduce the likelihood of premature death and disability,”

Joe Dunne added: “Seeing more studies of vaping is great, we welcome research. But we need a balanced debate on the relative risk of e-cigarettes in comparison to combustible cigarettes. The consequence of studies being released which are not clarified from the outset must surely be that fewer smokers will make the positive life-changing decision to switch to vaping.”

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