Yes, it's that time again - time to conduct another deconstruction of the latest study on e-cig health effects.
For those of you who like reading the actual studies instead of just taking my word for it (which I highly recommend, by the way) you can obtain it here:
This one was fairly cool.
Materials and methods:
1. They grew some human tracheobronchial epithelium tissue (the stuff lining your windpipe and bronchial tubes) from the cells of a healthy young never-smoker.
Now that's cool.
2. They exposed some of the tissue samples to known airway irritants (Butyl methacrylate, heptanal, heptyl butyrate, and methyl stearate if you must know) so they had a baseline irritation scale to reference.
3. They obtained some fairly average stinkies and two cig-a-likes: "bold" at 4.5% nic and "menthol" at 3% nic.
4. They used a Vitrocell VC01 Smoking Robot to smoke the stinkies and the cig-a-likes.
A smoking robot?
OK, it actually doesn't look as cool as it sounds.
5. The smoke and vapour were sucked onto the grown human airway cells which were then examined in comparison to some control cells which were left alone.
They also sucked way more vapour onto the cells than tobacco smoke, for what I could understand was a really good sciency reason.
What they found:
1. Exposure to cigarette smoke.
Spoiler alert: it wasn't good. The cells basically shut down for like six hours. In the researcher's own words, they experienced "near-complete cell death". You can see in the photo above that the tobacco smoke even degraded the substrate the cells were grown on. Ew!
2. Exposure to e-cig vapour.
Surprise! The cells didn't react at all. In fact, they showed no difference from the untreated cells. This was even in spite of the fact they bombarded them with way more vapour than an actual human would be capable of inhaling, just to make extra sure!
What they said at the end:
Apart from the usual "more research is needed..." disclaimer, the end result seemed to be that...
E-cigarette aerosol has the same effect on human airway tissue as air.
As air. Fresh air from God's green earth.
Or... blue, maybe
What this means for you:
If you were worried about the effect e-cig aerosol might have been having on your lungs and windpipe, you can probably rest a little easier.
If your friends or family are worried about it, you can explain that the evidence is growing that e-cigs are nowhere near as bad as people say they are.
It seems that the e-cig debate rages on, and the players are playing hard. But the evidence pile is growing, and those of us prone to panicking about our right to vape may not have so much to worry about after all.
A small caveat
In case you were wondering, yes this research was conducted by six scientists, three of whom work for the Mattek Corporation, a tissue engineering company, and three of whom work for British American Tobacco.
BUT - before we cry "biased!", we need to look at the methodology. Just because scientists employed by "big tobacco" come up with a result that favours e-cigs doesn't mean the result is automatically biased.
The methodology in this study was good. They grew the cells from a real life human volunteer, they used a control sample, they even exposed some other tissue samples to known irritants so they had a baseline to work from. Therefore regardless of the affiliations of half the researchers, we can be reasonably confident that this is good evidence.
Plus, one of the BAT scientists was David Thorne. That has to count for something ;-)