Science leaps forward when bright minds ask difficult questions. Why do objects fall to the ground? Do planets revolve around the earth or the sun? Might it be possible to split an atom? What happens when you put bubblegum flavoring on living semen?
That last one is not a joke. In perhaps the greatest effort ever by scientists to smear vaping, a group of British scientists gathered sperm samples from 30 men and grew them in petri dishes with PG and bubblegum and cinnamon food flavorings. The results are predictable: food flavorings affect sperm badly.
Helen O’Neill, a teaching fellow in reproductive health at University College London, led the experiment. The results were presented at the Fertility 2017 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, this week, according to The Times.
The scientist claimed that the bubblegum and cinnamon flavors affected the number, motility and maturity of the sperm. There is no published study yet, so we’re left to guess at some key questions, the main one being why putting food flavorings directly on sperm has the same effect as vaping those flavors. And how does the experiment show that vaping is worse for the sperm than eating the flavors?
“Many flavourings have approval for consumption but not inhalation,” Dr O’Neill told The Times. “I am satisfied from what I have seen [that the flavourings are likely to affect men’s fertility] but more research needs to be done. More importantly, from the current findings I am positive that e-cigarettes and e-liquids need to be more stringently regulated.”
You knew the good researcher would get to a demand for regulation quickly, right? O’Neill told The Times that she had “already seen enough” to be “convinced” that the sale of these flavors should be “suspended until scientists could prove whether they were safe in normal human use or not.” Still no answer about the relative risks of vaping versus swallowing though.
It’s easy to make fun of O’Neill and her colleagues, but this is how science works. A brilliant mind asks a challenging research question — does bubblegum make sperm swim slowly? — and then the research community works feverishly together, eventually reaching a thrilling climax of blinding enlightenment. And the result is splashed onto a newspaper page.