As I have mentioned many times, there seems to be a pendulum swinging back and forth every month or two, swinging between “Safe” and “Harmful” when it comes to how e-cigarettes are viewed with regard to their possible impact on health. I have covered a few of the known health risks of e-cigs in an article before, but this is brand new and so far has not been claimed before.
Yesterday a team of scientists at the U.S. Department For Veterans Affairs Healthcare System revealed the results of a brand new study, and the results have kicked that pendulum violently back towards the “Harmful” side of this almost tiresome debate. I say “almost” because I am a bit fed up with believing one set of scientific results, only to then be forced to re-think my beliefs a few weeks later, based on yet more apparently clear evidence. It is just so hard to work out who is telling the truth, and if both sides are, then that’s even more hard to work out! But however tiresome it becomes, I feel it is essential we all continue to read and assess these ‘studies’ in order to be fully equipped to make a balanced decision about our own lifestyle choices and health.
The study was conducted in the VA San Diego Healthcare System laboratories where they tested two devices, including using nicotine-free e-liquid in some of the tests. They claim to have found clear scientific proof that electronic cigarettes do cause damage in cells which “could lead to cancer”. They published their study in the Oral Oncology Journal where you can read it for yourself, and I recommend you do exactly that.
Their apparent findings, even I have to admit, sound quite scary for us keen vapers. But over years of listening to this debate, and taking part in it myself on two occasions, I have come to learn not to allow myself one of those knee-jerk reactions as that is quite often exactly what the study is designed to create, as it prevents the average person from delving any deeper into the true data and making an intelligent decision for themselves based on the evidence, rather than just swallowing the BBC or NBC headlines which are always written by someone with little knowledge about the subject, and a motive to sell newspapers and secure more airtime from viewers. I learned to approach such matters with a healthy level of suspicion way back when I looked into tobacco “science”, as I was so shocked to find all the headlines I had swallowed up since childhood were utterly unfounded and unproven. I don’t say that lightly, it’s completely true. Tobacco has been linked to cancer, in the same way that drinking coffee could be linked to pregnancy. What? Yes that sounds silly, let me explain….
Women who get pregnant are more often that not, coffee drinkers. So, by the logic of tobacco “science”, coffee must cause pregnancy. Stupid? Yes. But that’s precisely what they did with the original “cancer studies” into tobacco in the 1950s. They did not look at what else could have caused the cancer, as that wasn’t their motive, they just proved a CORRELATION between tobacco and lung carcinoma. And any half decent scientist knows, correlation is NOT the same thing as causation, it is miles from that.
Correlation is just a link, which should THEN be investigated at length to prove whether or not the link is due to a real causative issue, or not. i.e. With controlled studies and “random intervention trials” etc. I am not saying tobacco is not harmful, I am saying I have read all the science, and I have seen no evidence that proves it does cause cancer. I have seen correlations, I have seen anecdotal evidence (my grandmother smoked and died of cancer, my uncle never smoked and died of cancer, two equally useless anecdotes proving nothing whatsoever).
Just to put that into context. When the idiots who blasted our world with toxic doses of radioactive particles (I speak of the atmospheric nuclear tests by the US, UK, Chinese and Russian governments in the 50s and 60s) they didn’t realise what poisons their little boy’s war games were creating and lacing our atmosphere with for millions of years. A depressing thought yes, but at the time they just didn’t have a clue. But soon they did have a clue about correlation because the engineers and military personnel involved in the testing, those guys you see in the old films with sunglasses on, hiding in trenches with tied down sheep and pigs, they started getting cancer very soon after. That wasn’t considered proof of anything, it was mere correlation, the scientists were sensible not to overstate things or make assumptions, that’s not what scientists are supposed to do. But they did thankfully do the sensible thing and set about STUDYING it to see IF there was any way to prove causation. It took less than a couple of years, in fact some believe it took just months. You take two sets of rats, dogs, cats, whatever the animal of choice was (cancer is a primitive disease and affects all living mammals similarly due to cell structure similarities) and they had a control group and an “exposure” group. Hey presto, exposed animals die of cancers very rapidly, non-exposed ones don’t. Simple stuff huh. Yeah, exactly. Simple because the causation was clearly real, and whenever that’s the case, it really doesn’t take very long to prove it beyond any reasonable doubts.
So after seeing how easy it is to prove causation between radiation and cancer, in just a couple of years with very little budget, and I might add, with all the weight of opinion “wanting” to NOT find the causation was real, how come with tobacco research running into several BILLION dollars, with every single perception already determined to prove the cause IS there, and with 60-70 years of time to do it, WHY have they not yet managed it? I merely ask the question. My asking it doesn’t suggest I know or even have evidence to believe smoking is safe, far from it. But my question is nevertheless a valid one, and the only answer you will usually hear is “Pff, you idiot, we all KNOW smoking causes cancer”. In other words, I just get bullied into silence, as have many scientists who have tried to ask the same questions in order to actually find the real cause of the rise of cancer. For example the many scientists who assert the hypothesis that the cancer explosion since the 1920s and 30s was firstly due to the invention of the diesel engine, causing huge clouds of noxious heavy metals in the air we breath, secondly due to the industrial revolution, power stations and industrial fumes, thirdly due to the disgraceful nuclear tests, fourthly by lifestyle changes (less active and less outdoor lifestyles thanks to centrally heated homes and offices and the boom in office workers), fifthly by processed food (a huge change for human biochemistry) and God knows how many other possible and indeed likely causes.
More to the point, between 1950 and 2006, tobacco smoking worldwide dropped by 25%, meanwhile cancer rose 264%. Go figure. Again, that does not prove that smoking doesn’t cause cancer, but it’s highly suggestive of the notion that many other things do! So doing controlled testing to isolate the cause of tobacco on its own, is almost impossible. But even then, when you look at countries where these many possible causes are not prevalent, most often third world or under-developed countries, the cancer stats are quite the opposite to ours, whilst they continue to smoke themselves to oblivion!
My guess at an answer as to why they can’t prove it with hard science? Because it isn’t as black and white as they say. I am not saying it’s safe to smoke, I am not saying it’s dangerous, I am doing what any half-intelligent person should do and witholding judgement until someone shows me evidence which can be back tested, counter tested, and proven repeatedly in the correct conditions. I won’t go into the various attempts at doing so with cigarettes, but suffice to say, many of them (most of them in fact) point the wrong way in terms of their results.
The original “cancer rats” actually lived LONGER than the non smoking rats, then died of lung cancer 😀 – but they lasted longer than the non smoking rats who died of ….. er….. old age. Their life span is around 24 months, and the non smoking rats were all dead by then. The smoking rats, (some of which died from asphyxiation as a result of being force fed so much smoke they just choked to death from lack of air intake!) died of lung cancer…… (here’s the bit you can find in the study if you READ it, but you won’t find in the headlines)……. 6 months after the non-smoking rats had already died of old age! 😀 😀 😀 I wish it wasn’t funny, but it really does tickle me, not only how such a HUGE detail can be left out of the media reports, but how so many billions of people can be ignorant to it. I include myself in that, I was just as ignorant of it until a few years ago myself. What an idiot I felt as I read those “Doll and Hill” studies, asking myself “Why is this the first time you have read this, when you have smoked for 25 years?!” I was ashamed of my ignorance and gullability in tagging along with the headlines, headlines backed up by zero science I then discovered.
So, I am saying smoking is not harmful? NO. Not at all. So I am saying it IS harmful? NO, definitely not that either. Wake up and smell the coffee here, I don’t have any obligation on me to make any claim whatsoever, I am just applying some eyes and ears to the real information that is out there if you want to look at it, and making the only logical conclusion, nothing has been proven, so I effectively know…… er…. nothing.
I won’t even get into the subject of how the only tobacco EVER studied in these cancer studies, is commercial tobacco like Winstons, which put 600-1000 chemicals in their tobacco from radioactive fertlisiers to ammonia hydroxide to speed up the nicotine intake and withdrawal, making it possible to chain smoke, making billions more bucks for the utterly evil big tobacco firms. You can’t do that with naturally grown and untreated tobacco, the nicotine hit is just too big and too slow to release, it takes at least 30-60 minutes before you can even contemplate lighting another one, that’s my experience anyway and if you Google it you will see it’s a common experience for smokers of organic tobacco. Why don’t they do proper controlled studies of the differing health effects (if they are different) between commercially grown and process tobacco, compared with organically grown untreated and unprocessed tobacco? I don’t know why, but I would love to read such a study myself.
Anyway, my point is NOT to promote or say anything good about tobacco, commercial or organic (which are like chalk and cheese), my point is that if billions of people can believe totally unproven “bunk” theory (the idea that smoking has been proven to cause lung cancer) for many decades without ever realising the evidence is significantly lacking, flawed, and in some cases proven to actually be fraudulent, then at the very LEAST we MUST read every word of the “studies” into e-cigarettes.
I approach all technology with some cynicism and suspicion. It’s just the way I am built. I’m the type of person who sees the many benefits in having an iPhone, using Siri to find me to the nearest cafe, or checking the weather forecast in seconds. It’s amazing, yes. But unlike many people I know, I do sit and wonder… “what’s the kickback here?” I think of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, namely that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. OK he was discussing energy states in that theory, but I believe it can be applied to many things, technology especially. So whilst everyone on the bus has a wonderful smart phone enabling them to Facebook their friends, check their kids swimming club opening times, etcetera etcetera, there MUST be something else they are NOT doing with those minutes, minutes which can’t be spent doing two things, so something is missing out on their attention. Then I notice quite often it’s their own kids who are missing out, or the old social thing of actually chatting to strangers on a bus, the adhesive of a civilised and close-knit community. If it were provable, I wouldn’t mind betting that the invention of the smart phone will prove in future decades to have caused the biggest social shift in centuries, as people now grow up from childhood never speaking to people they don’t already know, but of course we all know they make loads of new “friends” on Facebook. Ha ha, yeah right, whatever! You get my drift I suspect.
Any new technology has the ability to amaze me, but also to worry me somewhat. In short, I look for the catch with anything new and ground-breaking. And there is no doubt whatsoever that e-cigarettes are definitely a ground-breaking new technology. So I do admit to having a healthy (or you may say unhealthy) suspicion about them. Nature didn’t provide this means for obtaining nicotine, nature gave us a leaf to smoke, or not smoke. (Nature equally didn’t ask Philip Morris to stick 600 chemicals in commercial tobacco!) This doesn’t mean it is harmful to vape just because it doesn’t grow on a tree, I am not quite that stupid, but it does make me less likely to just grab it and use it without being a little concerned about what it’s doing to me, perhaps at a level far deeper than modern science has yet progressed enough to understand.
I vape. You might be thinking “why are you doing it if you don’t trust it 100%?” And that would be a very valid question, but I can answer it easily….. I also smoked. Am I suspicious of tobacco. Oh yes! But I did it because of my addiction. If you want to know what I truly believe is the only proper course of action, it’s what I will do my damndest to ensure my kids do, and that’s not touch EITHER of them, EVER. But I did get hooked, and so I now choose vaping as what I believe (nobody can know) to be the safer of the two choices for obtaining my nicotine. Simple as that. I ain’t perfect in other words, show me someone who is 🙂
I try to approach articles and reports like this with a balanced mindset, as much as I possible can anyway, without becoming labotomised. I try not to ‘want’ to believe one thing or another, I just try to read stuff like a robotic scientist seeking the factual truth wherever possible. I have done that with this study ‘proving’ cell damage caused by e-cigarettes, but I am not going to pre-empt anyone here. I think it would go against the grain of everything I have said above about being intelligent and taking the time to analyse things in more depth, by each and every one of us on our own, to try to push my beliefs about this news report onto you before you have read it for yourself. All I will say is this…..
READ the study. Do not start by reading the news reports about the study, where you basically throw out your brain which was given to you for good reason, and instead just swallow the summary spouted by some media talking head who for all you know could have a vested interest in misleading you, or could simply be dumber than you are :D. That will colour your thinking on it before you read the actual findings of the research in its finite detail. Just put a pot of coffee on (or green tea to get some anti-oxidants inside ya :D) and then sit down and focus….
See if you can spot any flaws in the article, or indeed any flaws in the study itself. You don’t need to be a scientist to do this, you just need to have a logical and balanced perspective, and approach it without an agenda on either side. See what is there to be seen, not what you would like to see.
Note the bold sub headings in the article such as “Vapor-exposed cells more likely to die”. (I already begin chuckling at that, before I even read what it’s referring to, media people are just the antipody of scientists!! I would like to at least see the word “of…..” at the end of that line!
But I said I didn’t want to influence you so I will shut up :). In all honesty if you read it yourself, every single word, I shouldn’t be able to influence you anyway, because you will form your own view naturally in line with your own ways of thinking and your idea of what is reasonable and sensible, each of us differ there.
One thing is for sure, reading only the news headlines rarely educates anyone when it comes to scientific proof of anything, just as it didn’t when we look back at Thalidomide or anti-depressants, or Aspartame, or lead, or asbestos, or….. do I really need to go on?
When science and the media come together to ‘educate us’ – Be afraid, be VERY afraid!
And if that tobacco stuff interested you, it is worth having a read of Fisher’s response to Doll and Hill‘s study, where he applies proper hard science to their findings, or lack thereof. It’s a very interesting read, and does dispel some of the myths of their research, but also backs up some of it too. Definitely the best critique of their work you will find, presented without malice or negative energy, just pure maths, stats and analysis from a leading and highly respected (British) statistician. You know, the kind of stuff real science is usually based on 🙂
That’s all from me. I have left comments open on this post (despite opening myself up to spamming cretins) to see what the straw poll of opinion comes out like. I can’t wait to find out!