Dumb and dumber: the Portland State “science” crew strikes again!

Dr. Farsalinos faces off with the fearless CE4 killers one more time

portland benzene study

The fearless CE4 killers

The dynamic duo from Portland State University are back with even more transparently bad science on their favorite subject: vaping. James Pankow and David Peyton sure aren’t shy about repeating their mistakes. Maybe we should just say they’re slow learners.

You probably remember these PSU scientists from their infamous letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, in which they claimed that e-cigarettes produced massive quantities of formaldehyde. There was just one problem: they had to burn the hell out of the atomizers they used to produce the bad stuff. They took some cheap plastic old-style clearomizers and turned up the heat so their smoking machines were producing basically a continuous dry hit.

That was called out without delay by several observers, including Clive Bates. Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos first blogged on it, then published a study of his own that explained the problem and gave scientists a clear outline of exactly how to avoid this problem in the future.

“After this paper,” wrote Dr. Farsalinos, “there will be no excuse for anyone to report findings which are not relevant to realistic use and which could be misinterpreted.” Dream on, Dr. F!

Despite all that, the “fearless” PSU voltage queens — hey, these guys experiment with electricity without even grasping resistance and power — defended their bad methodology repeatedly, and even earned a $3 million-plus grant from the FDA and NIH to continue their excellent work. Surely they deserve some kind of award for their remarkable advances in isolating publicity from actual results.

Meet the new science, same as the old science

The result of that large government cash infusion is a piece of research that is maybe even worse than their formaldehyde fiasco. This time they’re after benzene, an organic hydrocarbon compound known to cause cancer. And they really worked hard to find some!

Sensitive to criticism of their choice of cheap plastic clearomizers last time, they chose better gear for this round of ritual burnings. They tested a Juul, and two variable wattage devices with Kanger Evod and Subtank Nano atties, with 1.8 and 1.2 ohm coils respectively.

Ooh, scary sounding stuff, that benzene.

They chose the Juul because preliminary testing showed that its e-liquid contained benzoic acid, and likely suspected that — BINGO! — it would produce benzene in its vapor. However, not so. They got nothing from the Juul. Sad! Not easily deterred, the clown princes of Portland added benzoic acid and benzaldehyde to the e-liquid they used to test the Kanger atomizers.

That got results. They still had lots of non-detectables, but also some positives, as high as 0.19 μg/g (0.19 millionths of a gram-per-gram). What does that mean?

“The fact that vaping can deliver benzene levels many times higher than those found in the ambient atmosphere – where it’s already recognized as a cancer risk – should be of concern to anyone using e-cigarettes,” said Pankow in a press release. “Please, stay away from high power if it’s available on your device.” Ooh, scary sounding stuff, that benzene.

Paging someone trustworthy

portland-state-study-laboratory benzene

“What do the findings mean?” asks Dr. F. “It depends on how you want to look at it. The authors calculated the concentration of benzene in inhaled air, and report levels up to 5000 μg/m3 air (at dry puffs of course). Compared to the ambient levels of 1 μg/m3 of benzene, everyone would think that this is a disaster.

“But not really, this methodology suffers from a major problem. Humans take about 12 breaths per minute, i.e. 17,000 (thousand) breaths per 24 h. The volume of air inhaled in 24 h is 20 m3. So, the daily exposure to benzene from ambient air is 20 μg. Even if you assume that Subtank at 25 W with 5-second puffs represent realistic conditions (they are not), you need to consume 105 mL e-liquid per day in order to be exposed to the same levels of benzene as breathing ambient air. For the EVOD under normal vaping conditions, you need to vape 125 mL e-liquid per day.”

Wow, I know some heavy vapers, but none of them can handle 100 mL a day. I myself go through about 8-10 mL a day, which is about five times as much as I vaped before I had to sit at a desk and read junk like this study every day. But I digress.

“The press statement mentions that: ‘The power levels used in the study were still far below those accessible to users on some devices, which can exceed 200 watts.’ This statement is similar to saying that: ‘We crashed with a car in Trafalgar Square with a speed of 100 mph, but still that was far below the 150 mph speed that cars can reach.’,” wrote Dr. Farsalinos.

And there we have it. These geniuses have to go to unrealistic extremes to make their results sound scary enough to justify the millions they’ve received in government grants to produce scary e-cig science. If they simply tested normal products at the power levels vapers use them at, there would be nothing to report.

“I understand it is frustrating to desperately try to find a problem but fail,” concludes Dr. Farsalinos. “However, this still does not prevent the mispresentation of evidence and science.”

The Portland atty blazers aren’t interested in doing real science to learn about actual risks in vaping, or to find the true limits of safe wattage or low resistance. None of their work can be applied to real world vaping. They’re just publicity hounds, willing to do just about anything to get their names in the paper — even convince smokers that vaping is dangerous.

Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.
  • ✪ Shamz ✪

    These guys are true dimwits.

  • Asylumsix

    I just don’t get it.. Why not simulate real world conditions? Every study should have a experienced vaper on hand that can test to see if they’re getting a dry hit and to properly set up the devices.. I’m sure any experienced vaper would be happy to help…

    I would go in a heartbeat if someone asked me.

    • Jim McDonald

      Agreed. It’s a big problem. However, if they don’t really want to do honest science, their methodology works just fine. They get all the scary sounding results they need to whip up a frenzy. And smokers are scared away from vaping.

      Thanks for the great comment!

      • brandon

        Exactly, it’s not about finding the truth. Its all about cooking up more anti-vaping propaganda, which people will undoubtedly believe because these two clowns are ‘scientists’ after all.

  • Gary Balkam

    the clown princes of Portland added benzoic acid and benzaldehyde to the e-liquid they used to test the Kanger atomizers.
    Seriously? The ADDED shit to the ejuice to prove.. what exactly?
    I wonder if the FDA will give me 3 million to prove high power vape mods cause brain damage to Ass Clowns? (I plan on beating them over the head with my 200w Ijoy until brain death occurs) See! I was right! High power mods can cause brain damage!