E-cigarette vapour
Scientists are disputing research suggesting e-cigarettes have just as many health implications as regular cigarettesMark Blinch/Reuters

Despite reports suggesting e-cigarettes are just as bad for you as cigarettes, some scientists are actively denying the claim. They believe the research, which made headlines last week, failed to compare the damage between e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes fairly.

The study, published in Oral Oncology, stated "our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public." However, some scientists disagreed with the procedure of the study, and told New Scientist that the results were not an accurate reflection of e-cigarette damage compared to conventional cigarettes.

"The relative harm compared to real smoking is the critical point here, since the majority of vapours use e-cigarettes to cut down or quit smoking," said Marcus Munafò, from the University of Bristol. "That direct comparison is largely missing."

Confusion arose around the study when Jessica Wang-Rodriquez, one of the lead researchers on the study, said: "Based on the evidence to date, I believe they [e-cigarettes] are no better than smoking regular cigarettes."

The research aimed to assess the damage caused to cells by electronic cigarettes. To do that, the researchers exposed cell cultures to vapour from the two most popular e-cigarette brands. They continued this exposure for between one and eight weeks.

Regarding conventional cigarettes, though, the key sentence in the study is this: "Because of the high toxicity of cigarette smoke extract, cigarette-treated samples of each cell line could only be treated for 24 hours."

Both types of cigarette were tested for different periods of time – in this case, the difference was huge. In some cases, cells were being exposed to e-cigarette vapour more than 50 times longer than ordinary cigarettes.

John Britton, from the University of Nottingham, said: "The comparisons were based on unequal treatments, without equivalent exposures for equivalent periods of time." Britton also said that the timeframe was unrealistic anyway, seeing as nobody smokes consistently for anywhere between 24 hours and eight weeks.

Linda Bauld, University of Stirling, told New Scientist: "Those of us reviewing the evidence are saying that when compared with tobacco smoking, e-cigarettes are a safer option, and I don't think this new research detracts from that advice."

All researchers do agree, however, that neither e-cigarettes nor regular cigarettes are safe, and both have negative consequences for health.