Tobacco treatment specialist says misleading news stories are confusing the public
Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn, a tobacco treatment specialist associated with the School of Public Health at the University of NSW, has issued a scathing attack on media outlets for their reportage of medical studies.
He calls out the headline, ‘Vaping from electronic cigarettes could be as bad for the heart as tobacco’, which was from an article published by the Daily Mail (UK) and syndicated across a range of Australian news services.
In an opinion piece published on MJA InSight, Mendelsohn says the article is based on a small study that “grossly exaggerates” the risk of vaping and confuses the public about the potentially life-saving e-cigarettes.
He argues this based the following reasons:
1. The study adds nothing new.
Research has already discovered that nicotine causes arterial stiffness and increases blood pressure transiently – and so does drinking coffee, exercise and being exposed to emotional stress, says Mendelsohn.
2. Health risks associated with vaping are not the same as with cigarettes.
Heart damage from smoking is caused by a wide range of toxic chemicals, most of which are not present or present at very low levels in e-cigarette vapour.
E-cigarette use has been found to be a much safer alternative to cigarettes by a recent comprehensive review, and this is a stance that has been taken by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians in the UK, who concluded that “the risk to health from long-term e-cigarettes use is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco”.
3. The study is too small and cannot predict long-term risks.
It involved 24 participants and only looked at temporary changes after 30 minutes of vaping a single e-cigarette, which is “not proof of long-term serious harm” says A/Prof Mendelsohn.
“However, based on this small study, the author Professor Vlachopoulos advises against the use of e-cigarettes,” writes Mendelsohn, in stark contrast to the UK Royal College of Physicians which recommends that in the interests of public health, e-cigarettes should be promoted as widely as possible as a substitution for smoking.
“It’s no wonder that people are confused.
“A recent study reported that 65% of Australians did not know that e-cigarettes were substantially less harmful than conventional cigarettes,” says Mendelsohn.
“While nicotine is the main cause of addiction to smoking, most of the harm is caused by the thousands of chemicals created by the burning of tobacco.”
He concludes that scientific research needs to be presented accurately and critically assessed by both scientists and journalists before “being plastered across news services.”
“Sensational headlines such as this one … spread fear and misinformation and can ultimately increase death and disease by discouraging smokers from switching to vaping, a much less harmful alternative to smoking,” he warns.