The study titled Metal Concentrations in e-Cigarette Liquid and Aerosol Samples: The Contribution of Metallic Coils, was published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study authors tested liquids in the refilling dispensers, aerosol, and remaining e-liquid in tanks from 56 vapers, and reported potentially unsafe levels of arsenic, chromium, manganese, nickel and lead.
The researchers concluded that these metals could be leaking from the heating coils of e-cigarettes, pointing out that aerosol metal concentrations were highest in devices with more frequently changed coils. The study authors, hailing from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, explained that repeated inhalation of these metals has been linked to a number of cancers and to lung, liver, immune, cardiovascular and brain conditions.
“It’s important for the FDA, the e-cigarette companies and vaper [users] themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals — which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale,” said study senior author Ana María Rule, from the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering.
A study with a number of methodological flaws
The CSO explained that two “cardinal principles” for any scientific research work are Replication and Validation, and sadly these two basic research requirements were missing from this study.
In response to this study, Dr. David Dawit, the Chief Scientific Officer at Eosscientific, an e-liquid manufacturer, wrote a detailed article explaining how this “study is fraught with methodological flaws.” He added that the researchers at John Hopkins “used environmental safety limits for metals in air that cannot be applied to real vaping conditions at all.”
Amongst other things, the CSO explained that two “cardinal principles” for any scientific research work are Replication and Validation. If one’s research findings cannot be replicated given the same experimental conditions, then one cannot say that these findings are valid. Similarly if one’s method is not validated, there is no way of knowing that it is adequate for the purpose of the research. Sadly these two basic research requirements were missing from this study.
A case of misinterpreted data
Dr. Dawit added that the researchers at John Hopkins “used environmental safety limits for metals in air that cannot be applied to real vaping conditions at all.”
Renowned anti-smoking expert Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a research fellow at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens, and the University of Patras in Greece, was naturally bombarded with questions about these concerning findings by many. Farsalinos who has been conducting laboratory and clinical research as lead researcher on e-cigarettes since 2011, had posted a response on his facebook page.
“For those asking questions about the latest study on metal emissions from e-cigarettes, here is my comment: The “significant amount” of metals the authors reported they found were measured in ug/kg. In fact they are so low that for some cases (chromium and lead) I calculated that you need to vape more than 100 ml per day in order to exceed the FDA limits for daily intake from inhalational medications.”
In line with with Dr. Dawit said, Farsalinos pointed out that unfortunately this is once again a case of misinterpreted data and findings that are taken out of context. “The authors once again confuse themselves and everyone else by using environmental safety limits related to exposure with every single breath, and apply them to vaping. However, humans take more than 17,000 (thousand) breaths per day but only 400-600 puffs per day from an e-cigarette.”
Misinformation that could cost millions of smokers their lives
It is tragic, to say the least, that a study which has caused such a sensation, was flawed in such a fundamental way, and therefore has spread nothing but unfounded fear and misinformation. Recent research from Georgetown University Medical Center in the United States, has indicated that up to 6.6 million early deaths could be avoided across the US alone if smokers had to switch to e-cigarettes. In the meantime studies like the aforementioned, are still putting smokers off from switching to the proven safer alternatives.