Research debunks claims that second-hand vaping increases asthma attacks

A recent study spreading across social media is making misleading claims that the second-hand vapor from electronic cigarettes increases the chances of asthma attacks, particularly in children.  The study is basing its conclusions solely on self-reported statistics rather than evidentiary scientific data.  This means that the “study” is not really a study at all.  It’s basically just a survey whose results are essentially meaningless from a scientific viewpoint. 

The research led by Jennifer E Bayley of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities in Bethesda, Maryland, reviews data published by the 2016 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey.  By evaluating the responses of some 11,830 child participants between the ages of 11 and 17 years, Bayley’s team of analysts determined that 21 percent of the surveyed respondents reported to have had an asthma attack at least once in the prior 12-months.  Of that 21 percent, one-third further claimed that they had been exposed to second-hand vapor within the same timeframe.

The trouble with the Maryland study

These alarmingly ambiguous statistics are deceptive on many levels.  Firstly, the document does not make clear if the children were being exposed to the e-cig vapor at the alleged times of the asthmatic attacks.  Secondly, the researchers do not discuss how often the children were exposed to the second-hand vapor, in general.  Where they exposed to vaping on a daily basis or only once within the 12-month threshold?  

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Thirdly, nowhere in the paper do the researchers identify how many of the surveyed participants have actually been officially diagnosed with asthma.  And finally, since the study’s data is not derived from controlled-experiments, it’s impossible to use the resulting statistics as a basis for reputable scientific evidence.

Fortunately, a more reputable, peer-reviewed paper published in 2016 already debunks Ms.  Bayley’s outlandish claims.  The 2016 study conducted by Professor Riccardo Polosa of the University of Catania, Italy, not only refutes the bogus Maryland paper, but it even suggests that switching to vaping can vastly improve respiratory functions in asthmatic smokers. 

Polosa research indicates switching to vaping may be helpful for asthmatic smokers

The 2016 Polosa study is entitled Persisting long term benefits of smoking abstinence and reduction in asthmatic smokers who have switched to electronic cigarettes.  It is still published in several professional medical journals including Discovery Medicine.  The Polosa team begins by selecting a small control group consisting of adult smokers previously diagnosed with asthma. Each of the participants was asked to switch from vaping to smoking for a full 24-months.

Meanwhile, the scientists would periodically evaluate several biomarkers and respiratory functions of each participant periodically throughout the 2-year trial. Various asthma-related symptoms and respiratory functions were carefully monitored and documented, including but not limited to the following areas.

  • Overall breathing quality and respiratory functions
  • Airways ratings of hyper-responsivity
  • Severity and frequency of asthma attacks
  • PC20 and ACQ levels

Dual usage of combustible tobacco and vaping products was not allowed. In fact, when the scientists discovered that one individual had engaged in dual-use, the participant was ejected from the clinical trial.  Two others were also ejected after relapsing back to smoking entirely.   

“The present study confirms that regular EC use ameliorates objective and subjective disease outcomes in asthma and shows that these beneficial effects may persist in the long term. Large controlled studies are now warranted to elucidate the emerging role of the e-vapor category for smoking cessation and/or reversal of harm in asthma patients who smoke. Nonetheless, the notion that substitution of conventional cigarettes with EC is unlikely to raise significant respiratory concerns, can improve counseling between physicians and their asthmatic patients who are using or intend to use ECs.”

What the scientists determined is that adult asthmatics smokers who switch to vaping experienced considerable progress in respiratory functions as their occurrences of asthma attacks and other related symptoms gradually declined.  They also discovered that the two participants who reverted back to smoking full-time witnessed a steady deterioration of their methacholine PC20 and ACQ scores compared to the vaping-only group.  Due to the success of the 2016 study, Dr. Polosa and his team of scientists are planning to conduct additional research in the coming years involving larger control groups of participants.

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