A study released earlier this week has caused controversy by claiming that heated nicotine in e-cigarette vapour can cause similar types of DNA damage to cigarette smoke, and may put vapers at increased risk of cancer. The paper, led by researchers from the University of Rochester in New York, has received widespread media coverage and has been seized on by opponents of tobacco harm reduction to bolster their case. Now, however, it has been strongly criticised by a leading British cancer charity, which dismissed its headline conclusion as “wildly misleading”.
According to Michael Walsh of Cancer Research UK, there are serious problems with the conclusions the researchers have drawn from their data. While their actual experiments – conducted on mice and human cell cultures – are respectable, Walsh says that the data they collected simply doesn’t support their conclusions. For example, the paper claims it’s possible that “e-cigarette smoke” may contribute to cancer and heart disease in humans. Walsh says,
“While this is technically possible, the study didn’t look at humans, and so didn’t show any effect on the health of humans.”
Walsh also criticised the report for not carrying out an experimental comparison of e-cigarette vapour with cigarette smoke. This was a major omission, as the conclusions made this comparison – but, according to Walsh, without any data to base it on. He also pointed out that other studies have failed to find a link between nicotine and cancer.
Professor Linda Bauld, a leading tobacco control expert who works closely with Cancer Research, told The Daily Telegraph that because this study used cell cultures to model effects on humans, it doesn’t say much about the effects of vapour on real human organs – “if you put human cells in a petri dish with Fairy liquid, they die,” she said.