It’s another week and another bunch of scare stories about vapes containing “chemicals”. The latest uproar centres around a study conducted by Lead Author Carsten Prasse, assistant professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Should we be worried?
Consider something that is routinely promoted to children in advertising campaigns. Worse, some health experts recommend using them, yet they contain these chemicals:
They all sound pretty dangerous, lots of acid and things that sound like cyanide. It’s clear that this dangerous thing must be banned in order to protect children. Yes, it is time that we banned apples.
Hang on, apples?
What on earth are all those chemicals doing in apples? Does the government know?
The truth is everything is made of chemicals, but the study (published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology) would prefer you not to realise this.
“Of [the chemicals] the team could identify, six substances were potentially harmful, including three chemicals never previously found in e-cigarettes,” write the study’s authors.
Prasse said: “People just need to know that they’re inhaling a very complex mixture of chemicals when they vape. And for a lot of these compounds, we have no idea what they actually are. I have a problem with how vaping is being marketed as more healthy than smoking cigarettes. In my opinion we are just not at the point when we can really say that.”
A German 15th Century alchemist and philosopher called Paracelsus is considered to be the father of modern toxicology (the study of harmful chemicals and substances).
Paracelsus said: “What is there that is not poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.”
What this means is that an apple isn’t poisonous – but if you eat over 200 apple seeds you might die. Likewise, you risk your life if you drink 6 or more litres of water or 118 coffees one after the other.
It isn’t that vape contains chemicals, everything contains chemicals, it is whether those chemicals are present in sufficient quantities to pose a risk. Prasse’s paper fails to present any proof of elevated risk.
Why do people like Carsten Prasse say such things then?
It is possible that they are doing it with the best of intentions to keep people safe. Some attribute ulterior motives.
In 2015, Public Health England reviewed all of the evidence and declared: “the current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking”.
It has conducted annual reviews since then, updating its position based on the latest research findings, and has repeated this statement of relative safety every time. It is worth remembering this the next time you see a scare story about “vape chemicals” in the media.