Harvard Studies Distorting Facts
A recent study published by Harvard
One thing needs to be clarified with regard to scientific studies: There is a serious issue among American scientific journals and publications today to try and narrow down information into digestible single lines. The abstract was once this summation. It served as a quick piece of information for anyone glossing over dozens of studies who wanted more information. Reading it meant knowing what the study was about, what they hoped to find, how they went about finding it, and what their conclusions showed all in 200- 300 words.
Today though, this 200-300 word abstract is apparently insufficient. It is too large for press releases which have to further refine the content into a shorter summary. This, then, is further refined to fit news titles and headlines. In the end, what was once a thorough and perhaps informative study of a finite and singular piece of a much larger puzzle becomes distorted and misleading. Environmental Health Perspectives published a research study completed at Harvard which pointed out that diacetyl, acetyl propionyl or acetoin were present in 92% of the 51 e-cigarette products they tested. Again, this particular publication and the headlines it generated were meant for attention grabbing, not informing. The entire scientific process around which journal publications were built is slowly fading and in its place are snippets of a larger and more complex issue dumbed down for the average reader to digest in half a second or less.
Normally, when a shortened title or summary of a complex scientific study is presented, academics the world over will peruse the entirety of the article to better understand. Sadly, general readers of headlines and politicians do not. This is where the trouble begins.
For the layman, let’s get one thing straight: Diacetyl is an aromatic molecule that one typically finds in the food industry. This typically has a buttery or caramel note which is why it is often included in caramel flavors, chocolate flavors, vanilla flavors, dough products, and baking. This particular molecule has been singled out in this study because it presents a risk if you inhale it and can cause what is commonly referred to as popcorn lung, or chronic bronchitis. This risk is not present if you ingest it, only if you inhale it, so the food industry does not restrict it.
A cardiologist and researcher by the name of Konstantinos Farsalinos is a known expert on e-cigarettes. It was his work which first analyzed e-liquids and Diacetyl. He concluded that the trace amounts of Diacetyl found were less than 22 parts per million (ppm) and therefore no health hazard. Recent studies have tried to point out that some e-liquids had more than 500 ppm which required better regulation across the industry.
As a result, many have started advocating for product standards around the world. In 2014, FIVAPE (the French Vaping Trade Association) argued for a nationwide call for standards. They wanted three groups to be divided as follows:
1. Electronic Cigarette Hardware (XP D90-300- 1)
2. E-liquids (XP D90-300- 2)
3. Emissions ((XP D90-300- 3)
This is what led to three product standards documents by 2015 which helped to better regulate the industry.
One might be asking right about now, what this has to do with the Harvard publication. Hang in there. These new standards prohibit diacetyl from being added as an extra flavor and sets the limits if added to 22 ppm which is naturally found in things like coffee beans, chocolate, and certain fruit extracts. If e-liquid producers followed these standards all over the world, the issue would not even be an issue. Throughout France, for example, producers are following these standards. They are getting certified as a result. Unfortunately, not everyone around the world is as compliant.
Now back to that study: that Harvard study has presented a few inconsistencies readers need to understand.
1) The analysis of the quantities was done once the e-cigarette had vaporized all of the e-liquid. But let’s be honest: a vapor is not going to vape the entire tank in one sitting.
2) The logic of the study tries to show that e-liquid contains these items without stating how much or what quantity of the e-liquid was analyzed. It also fails to disclose whether the same quantities were used for each e-liquid tested.
3) Finally, the word is misleading too. Of the 51 e-liquids tested only ONE of them had 239 mg of diacetyl. The next highest one on the list had only 38 mg and the average amount was 8 mg. In essence, they presented the single highest finding as though it were the average among the group, when it was truly a standalone instance.
Farsalinos noted that, “They failed to mention that these chemicals are present in tobacco cigarette smoke and violated a classical toxicological principle that the amount determines the toxicity and the risk.”
That said, it is important to understand that while e-cigarettes are a wonderful alternative to traditional cigarettes in terms of the health risk they pose, any real evaluation of their data must be compared to the traditional cigarette counterparts, otherwise it fails to put the entire report into perspective. A single cigarette has between 80 and 120 ppm of diactyl.
Without mentioning to individuals what the traditional cigarette results are for the same analysis, it is impossible for readers to understand how e-cigarettes compare. Instead, readers are frightened by reading standalone figures and steer away from what is widely known to be a healthier alternative to traditional smoking.
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