NYU Dental Researchers Are Lifting the Veil on the Hidden Health Impact of Electronic Cigarettes

In a press release issued on December 11th, 2013, New York University committed a grave disservice to its student body population. Entitled, “NYU Dental Researchers Are Lifting the Veil on the Hidden Health Impact of Electronic Cigarettes”, this press release may constitute one of the most blatantly dishonest, recklessly stupid and callously dangerous pieces of disinformation yet to be disseminated on the subject of vaping.

         There are two most primarily relevant portions of the release as it pertains to e-cigarettes: The first of them follows:

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Deepak Saxena, associate professor of basic science and craniofacial biology, and Xin Li, assistant professor of basic science and craniofacial biology, both at the College of Dentistry, are working to close the gap between marketing and science by using oral cavity and various systems biology approaches to reveal the health impact of e-Cigarettes. The FDA and the American Lung Association have cautioned that e-cigarettes users are unknowingly inhaling vaporized chemicals including diethylene glycol.The issue is urgent,” notes Saxena, “as a recent survey conducted among students at eight U.S. colleges found that 12 percent of e-Cigarettes users had never smoked a conventional cigarette.”

There’s the first red flag: the diethylene glycol claim, so often and so thoroughly debunked, has once again reared its glassy-eyed, dopey-lookin’ head here. And, of course, we have the additional loveliness of an unsubstantiated statistic. Unsubstantiated statistics are one of the best-loved gimmicks of hucksters and flimflam artists, though they’re usually confined to late-night infomercials rather than finding their way into University press releases; or perhaps I miss my guess on that point, and the industries of academia and 2 AM shill-dom have grown far closer to merging than I would have liked to believe.

Now, you might be thinking, from that excerpt, that these people have actually done the science they’re making claims based on. That they’ve actually performed the study the result of which they’re trumpeting here. That’s generally how science is supposed to work: You gather the evidence, then you analyze the evidence, then you arrive at your conclusion based on your analysis of the evidence you’ve gathered, announcing your findings after… well, you know, after you’ve got findings to announce.

If you think that’s how science is supposed to work, you’d be right. If you think that’s what these guys have done, however, not so fast.

E-Cigarettes

Since the initial interaction of nicotine from e-cigarettes with the human body occurs first in the oral cavity, Saxena and Li will collect saliva and oral mucosa from College of Dentistry patients who are e-cig users to determine the relative abundance of oral bacteria and changes in DNA in these patients in order to compare them with the effects found among conventional cigarette smokers.

Emphasis mine. This is why this press release can only be described as recklessly stupid and callously dangerous. These two “scientistshaven’t done the work yet. They’re beginning with a preselected conclusion, and not only do they intend to seek evidence to support their bias, they haven’t even actually bothered to engage in the junk science yet.

Here’s the reason for this piece’s title. If NYU’s student body sees what I saw when I read this release, they’ll be getting some real education, and I don’t think it’s the lesson NYU would like them to learn: You can’t trust academia to be ethical in their dealings with you. They will lie right to your face to suit their agenda, even when the stakes are your health, even your life.

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While that is a valuable lesson indeed, I can’t help but suspect that NYU’s teaching of it is a shining example of accidental education.

John Castle