Analysing Air Quality….at a Vape Convention

Thanks to a fellow advocate, a new study has been brought to my attention and it is all about the myth that is secondhand smoke or in this case secondhand vapour. It is yet another blatant attempt to persuade policy makers that vaping in enclosed spaces is a bad thing, which we all know is bantha poo-doo.

From the abstract:

Secondhand smoke (SHS) from combustible cigarettes causes numerous diseases. Policies have been developed to prevent SHS exposure from indoor cigarette use to reduce health risks tonon-smokers. However, fewer policies have been implemented to deter electronic cigarette (ECIG) use indoors, and limited research has examined the impact of secondhand exposure to ECIG aerosol.

It’s pretty clear that the authors of this study haven’t been keeping up with the various Bills being proposed across the US or the insane babbling of the Welsh Health Minister as policies to “deter” vapour product use indoors are becoming increasingly prevalent.

So what on earth did these authors hope to accomplish?

Methods

Indoor air quality was measured at a 2-day ECIG event held in a large room at a hotel. Fine particulate matter (PM) was measured using 2 devices that measured concentrations of PM 2.5 μm aerodynamic diameter or smaller (PM2.5). Measurements were taken before the event, over 2 days when the event was ongoing, and the day after the event. PM2.5 measurements were also taken from the restaurant at the hotel hosting the event and a restaurant at a nearby hotel.

So, measuring air quality at a vape convention along with a restaurant, places where “air quality” is bound to be affected by any number of factors. Digging a little deeper into the method I came across this snippet (emphasis mine):

A research team attended an ECIG event (summer, 2015) held in a hotel meeting room over 2 days. ECIG use was permitted in all hotel areas. Indoor air quality (particulate matter measuring <2.5 μm (PM2.5)) was measured using two concealed TSI (Shoreview, Minnesota, USA) Sidepak AM510 Personal Aerosol Monitors in (1) the event room, (2) an indoor restaurant within the event hotel and (3) an indoor restaurant located at an adjacent hotel not hosting an ECIG event.

So this research team attended a vape event and installed concealed air monitors. Here’s the thing, I’ve been to a couple of vape events indoors, and yes they do get cloudy but the only real “side effect” is I had a bit of a dry mouth which as we all know is easily remedied by drinking. I suppose the other effect is that with so many folks in a single area it gets a little warm, but that’s hardly anything to do with air quality.

However, particulate matter is a concern and has been shown to be pretty destructive to the lungs, at extreme exposures but not at the levels “identified in second-hand smoke”.

There is already a flaw in the author’s method:

however, this device cannot detect particle sizes below 100 nm in diameter. Because ECIG aerosol contains particles in this size range the PM2.5 concentrations measured by the Sidepak AM510 likely underestimate the actual exposures being delivered to bystanders.

So they used a device that can’t detect the mythical “nano particles” that certain researchers blather on about so the authors state that the measurements are “underestimated” – i.e. “we found x, but it could really mean y”.

While in the venues, researchers sat at a table with the device at table height or walked around the rooms to collect air quality readings throughout the venue.

Now, I don’t know about you but if I saw someone trying to measure something like air quality at a vape convention I would probably, and quite deliberately blow as large a cloud as I could do, so it is entirely possible that others at the event did exactly the same thing.

Immediately prior to and after each measurement session, 5 min of control measurements were collected by sampling outdoor air or in a room with no active ECIG use.

Wait a minute, sampling outdoor air as a control? What about all the environmental particulates?

The research team took their measurements and averaged 60 consecutive 1 second readings while disregarding the first and last reading of each session to exclude any potential measurements from outdoor air when entering or exiting the venue.

Interestingly, the researchers applied the same calibration factor used for evaluating secondhand smoke and, get this, the couldn’t reliably determine e-cig use during the event days so they classified everyone as an ecig user.

Table1

As you would expect, particulate matter was indeed substantially higher on the event days, however the researchers completely failed to identify the composition of these particles. Indeed Clive Bates has thoroughly dissected this on not one, but two occasions.

So what indeed is all the kerfuffle about?

It’s all in the “discussion” segment of the paper.

In this study, the presence of fine PM increased dramatically— 125–330 times higher—in a room where active ECIG use was occurring relative to the same room when no active ECIG use was occurring or in other venues where no active ECIG use was occurring. This observation indicates that indoor ECIG use can generate fine PM in high concentrations during natural use conditions in indoor environments.

Do the study authors even consider what the particulate matter consists of? Nope. They also fail to realise just how substantially different e-cig aerosol is compared to tobacco smoke.

While ECIG aerosol often contains some of the same chemicals found in combustible cigarette or hookah smoke such as nicotine, the composition (ie, concentration of each chemical per puff or product use) of the PM measured in this study likely differs from PM generated from combustible cigarette and hookah smoking.

Likely differs? Well really. The aerosol emitted is entirely different. As Clive points out:

The key issue with the detection of ‘particulates’ is what they are made of … these are droplets of e-liquid aerosol. They simply cannot be compared with tobacco smoke particulates, or indeed, the particulates that arise from combustion processes in diesel engines, power stations, biomass or from road surface degradation… These are the types of particulate that underpin the scientific basis for health concerns about PM2.5. E-liquid aerosol is physically and chemically completely different – yet heroic analogy has been used to suggest the concerns should be equivalent. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that particle size per se is a cause of harm… if it was we’d need to take more care boiling kettles and having showers.

Quite.

Undeterred, the researchers continue:

Therefore, this study does not provide the data needed for a direct comparison of the harms associated with exposure to high concentrations of PM generated from ECIG use and hookah or combustible cigarette smoke. While the exact harm potential of secondhand exposure to ECIG aerosol is not currently known, the fact that secondhand ECIG aerosol contains fine particulates, nicotine, carcinogenic aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds indicates that exposure to secondhand ECIG aerosol may present some degree of harm to bystanders.

Yes that’s right, throw in some scary sounding words about “chemicals” and “harms” and you’ve got junk policy gold. There is currently zero basis to expect any “harms” from e-cig aerosol, but that doesn’t deter these researchers from harping on about it.

Importantly, any of these bystanders who are not ECIG users have opted not to inhale ECIG aerosols yet, should they share indoor space with an ECIG user who is using their ECIG actively, are involuntarily inhaling these fine particulates.

Correct me if I miss the point here, but if a non-vaper attended a vape event they have voluntarily agreed to be in the presence of vapers and the “dangerous” aerosol, so what is the issue? True, it does have much broader implications, we all know how zealous some anti-smokers (and anti-vapers) are, but the fact is the researchers haven’t added anything meaningful to the debate, all they have done is say “we attended a vape event and found vapour”.

Ah, here’s the crux of their ideals:

This study is the first to examine ECIG-generated PM in a natural public setting. While the venue examined in this study may differ from some places where ECIGs are used indoors commonly, we expect that PM2.5 concentrations measured in other venues, such as bars or restaurants that allow ECIG use, would be elevated similarly compared with the concentrations reported in this study, again requiring non-users to inhale fine PM involuntarily.

All about protecting those who “involuntarily” inhale e-cig vapour so naturally the final part of this study is all about telling policy makers that they “may want to consider to what extent e-cig users are required to comply with all existing clean indoor air regulations“.

This isn’t about science, or even about health. This study is all about telling policy makers “we found some stuff so ban it”.

If they’d bothered to identify what the aerosol consisted of and found anything that might prove harmful I might be more lenient, instead they just counted particles, added some scary sounding words and “recommended” that e-cigs are to be included in clean air policy.

Policy based science. Nothing more ludicrous on this planet.

  • Wang Whisrakey

    The PM2.5 issue in vape con is definitely different with that in common restaurants, diners, etc. According to the logic of the report, we should ban eating popcorns in indoor area because they can detect a very high amount of diacetyl in popcorn factory.

    • Without determining what the particles consist of, it’s a much-ado over nothing. May as well ban all internal combustion engines 😉

      • Wang Whisrakey

        Well, Elon Musk would love to see that happen. LOL.