One of the worst vaping studies ever published has drawn some big league academic criticism.
The study, “E-Cigarettes and “Dripping” Among High-School Youth,” was done by authors from Yale University and Oberlin College, and published in the journal Pediatrics. It claimed to have discovered a scary new trend in teen vaping: dripping.
The Pediatrics authors describe dripping as “vaporizing the e-liquid at high temperatures by dripping a couple of drops of e-liquid directly onto an atomizer’s coil and then immediately inhaling the vapor that is produced.” They say that “dripping e-liquids directly onto the e-cigarette atomizers could expose users to high temperatures and toxic chemicals such as aldehydes.”
Vapers know that dripping is just another way to get liquid onto an atomizer’s coil. It doesn’t require higher temperatures than any other vaping method, and if you’re doing it right you’re probably less likely to get the dry hits that are the real source of those aldehydes.
But this study isn’t about the scary health consequences of this disturbing trend. No no, these high-powered thinkers wanted to get some idea of how many teens are actually engaging in the practice. So they conducted a survey…the worst vaping survey ever.
Ask a stupid question...
Think about this: if you wanted to ask a lot of teenagers — most of whom are just occasional vapers — if they dripped when they vaped, how would you do it? What question would you ask? Remember, you have to make clear what it is that you’re talking about, but you have to do it in one sentence. I thought about this, and came up with a pretty good one:
- Do you drip directly into an atomizer each time you vape, or use a tank that you refill with e-liquid occasionally?
Anyone who drips would understand the need for a dripping atomizer and know what it is, so this is probably a reliable way to figure out if the person drips. Now there are lots of ways you could ask this question, but even a very occasional vaper would likely understand whether the device they used had a tank full of liquid attached or if they had to drip into it each time they vaped.
But that’s not the question the brilliant minds from Yale devised. No, not even close. They came up with a question that would be likely to confuse even experienced vapers.
- “Have you ever used the dripping method to add e-liquid to your e-cigarette?”
That’s what they asked. I’m not kidding. How many teens taking the survey pictured a bottle with a glass dropper or a unicorn bottle being used to refill a tank? My guess is a lot of them. Among the 1,080 participants who responded to the dripping question, 48.7 percent answered no, 26.1 percent said yes, and 25.2 percent said they didn’t know whether they had ever “used the dripping method.” Who knows what those results mean?
Well, the Ivy League authors know, of course. They say the results prove that there’s “a critical need for regulatory efforts that consider restrictions on the e-cigarette device so it cannot be easily manipulated for behaviors such as dripping. Finally, there is an urgent need for prevention programs that educate youth about the potential dangers of these alternative e-cigarette use behaviors.” Alternative. Right.
Spread the poison far and wide
Having devised a survey that proves nothing and turned the mysterious results into a call for regulation, the authors got busy spreading the word. Time for a good old-fashioned moral panic!
A press release from Yale got the ball rolling, and the news media sucked it up. The headlines were right out of Reefer Madness. “’Dripping’ may be a new, dangerous trend for teens who vape,” screamed one. I think “Teens Figured Out How to Make Vaping Even Worse for You” probably takes the prize.
The New York Times got into the act. So did CNN, USA Today, CBS, NBC, and just about every small, medium and large paper and TV station in the country. Even people who don’t bother reading the stories are affected just by seeing the headlines. Vaping advocates can work overtime for a year and never undo the damage caused by this worthless, fact-free paper.
The truth is out there
But it needs to be called out. The only kind of response to a supposedly legit study in a medical journal that will be taken seriously by the readers of the journal is one from experts. Luckily, some academics are not rabid anti-vaping ideologues. A couple of sympathetic researchers have teamed up to respond directly to the journal with a letter that was published in the online edition last week.
The response came from Riccardo Polosa and Amelia Howard. Polosa, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Catania in Italy, has done several studies on vaping himself. Howard studies the sociology of technology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. Her research is focused on vape technology, the market, and the effects of policy on innovation.
“The results of the recent cross-sectional survey by Krishnan-Sarin et al. should not be interpreted as evidence that youth are ‘dripping’ in high numbers,” write Polosa and Howard. “The concept is inadequately defined and it’s likely that many or most respondents misunderstood a poorly constructed questionnaire item.
“‘Refilling’ was highlighted in the survey’s definition of e-cigarettes, yet ‘dripping method’ seems left to interpretation. It’s unlikely that the question ‘Have you ever used the dripping method to add e-liquid to your e-cigarette?’ isolated device-specific dripping: first, ‘dripping’ not ‘the dripping method’ is the typical way to refer to adding droplets of liquid to early atomizers or RDAs; second, all refillable devices are filled by adding e-liquid with a ‘dripping method.’
“We believe students counted as ‘dripping’ had instead refilled a device or tried one they’d seen refilled. And given the obviousness of a ‘dripping method’ in a refilling context, we believe the question likely confused many respondents. This could explain why 25.2% of the sample reported, ‘I don’t know’…. Given the study’s weak translation of the specific dripping practice, and substantial oversight of the ubiquitous practice of refilling with dropper bottles, results don’t indicate youth are ‘dripping’ in the specific sense. Though we’d emphasize that if they were, there’s no reason to assume this is any more or less risky than using other types of e-cigarettes.”
Howard and Polosa hit the nail on the head. The survey question was stupid, which makes the answers to it worthless. Elsewhere in their letter, they give the original authors a short history lesson on dripping, explaining that it’s not a new phenomenon at all, but something that’s been around almost since the beginning of vaping.
The fact that a study like this was pursued by Yale researchers, approved and funded by the NIH, published in Pediatrics, and accepted as true by every news outlet from coast to coast, illustrates the sorry state of research on vaping. The prevailing point of view is that it’s something distasteful, to be discouraged, and that it doesn’t even deserve to be studied by people who follow the normal standards expected of research.
Now the study’s authors will probably respond to the Howard/Polosa letter. Will they realize their errors and accept this valid criticism? Or will they blow it off and stand by their ridiculous paper? Take a wild guess.