No vaper needs telling how popular e-cigarettes have become in a very short space of time – after all, it’s predicted that in just five years their sales will reach the level of conventional cigarettes. What is an issue for vapers, though – and potential vapers; both those looking to quit smoking and non-smokers – are the safety issues. Just how safe is vaping? Can we be sure about the science that’s out there and the results it’s delivered?
That’s something Dr Thomas Hartung, a toxicologist from the University of Konstanz in Germany and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, United States, is concerned about. In a recent article he published, he pointed out that “the rapid evolution of e-cigarette devices” has limited the “assessment approach” of science “since traditional studies take time and are not suitable for chasing a moving target”. In other words, using science to set policy when it comes to vaping safety may be hard to get right.
Essentially, this is because of the explosion of the vaping industry – at last count in 2014, 8,000 e-cig flavours were available with between 10 and 11 new brands and 270 new flavours popping up every month. And that was two years ago; the numbers will be even higher now. As Hartung points out, “to test all flavours with traditional methods is not possible – this would cost billions of dollars and we simply don’t have the lab capacities worldwide [for that]”.
Moreover, it’s not effective to try and simply transpose toxicity test methods (which have been long established and used for normal cigarettes) to e-cigarettes. Because of the innate, physical difference between the two products, what’s needed is aerosol testing for e-cigarettes.
This is something that Dr Marciej Goniewicz, based at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, United States, is pushing for and starting to do himself. He recommends combining the analytical and assessment expertise honed in other industries, specifically in terms of looking at flavour and fragrance, in order to “assess [the] many overlapping ingredients and complex mixtures not really suitable for traditional toxicology”.
Fundamentally then, Hartung believes, “purists will … not be happy with a product that is more dangerous than anything we would allow to come to the market in any other industry”. Thus, unless there’s a change, vaping will be locked out from potentially millions of consumers out there who are wary of trying it. A change in the testing strategy when it comes to vaping safety will not only be the good of the industry then, but for all vapers too.