TrANTZlation of Goniewicz and Lee NTR abstract re “thirdhand vapor”

by Carl V Phillips

After an unrelenting two weeks of very important posts here on very important topics, it is time for some whimsy (whimsy with a serious scientific message, of course). What, some of you haven’t read all the other posts from the last two weeks? Well don’t waste your time on this! Click backwards and read them!

Goniewicz and Lee recently published a peer-reviewed (that is the first bit of whimsy) paper in Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Their abstract is here, and this is probably more amusing if you read that first, though basically every word of the original is still present in the following trANTZlation of it:

Nicotine Tob Res. 2014 Aug 30.

Electronic Cigarettes Are a Source of Thirdhand Exposure to Nicotine.
Goniewicz ML(1), Lee L(2).

(1)Department of Health Behavior, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY, USA
(2)Department of Health Behavior, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY, USA.

INTRODUCTION: It is believed that anti-tobacco journals will publish most anything without sufficient review. To test that hypothesis, we wrote the following: Substances remaining on the surfaces in areas where people have smoked contribute to the harmless phenomenon that we label with the alarming term, thirdhand exposure. Nicotine from tobacco smoke has been shown to react with oxidizing chemicals in the air to form secondary pollutants, such as carcinogenic nitrosamines, and we are counting on the journal and reviewers to allow us to claim this without acknowledging the quantities are utterly trivial. While previous studies have demonstrated thirdhand exposure to nicotine from tobacco smoke, none has investigated whether nicotine from electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) can also be deposited on various surfaces. That is still the case now, but we hope to trick people into believing otherwise.

METHODS:  Three brands of e-cigarettes were refilled with varying nicotine concentrations. We released 100 puffs from each product directly — i.e., in a manner not at all similar to the way the supposed thirdhand exposure is created via exhalate — into an sealed chamber that in no way resembles real-world spaces. Surface wipe samples were taken from five indoor 100cm2 surfaces (window, walls, floor, wood, and metal) pre and post release of vapors. Nicotine was extracted from the wipes and analyzed using gas chromatography. Measurements were reported relative to the quantities that exist in a cleaned and unused chamber in order to make the numbers look really big. P-values were reported to create the illusion that this is scientific.

RESULTS:  Lo and behold, we found that if you spray a ridiculously large quantity of nicotine solution droplets directly into a sealed chamber, you can find nicotine there. Three of four experiments showed significant increases in the amount of nicotine on all five surfaces. We remain baffled by the fourth, but if we reported that it occurred 100% of the time, someone might think harder about how absurd this methodology was, so we are counting our blessings. The floor and glass windows had the greatest increases in nicotine, on average by a factor of 47 and 6, respectively (p < .05). The average amount of nicotine deposited on a floor during each experiment was 205 μg/m2, and varied from limit of quantitation to 550 μg/m2. We hope that no one notices that even with the copious quantities we sprayed into the room, this means someone would have to lick clean the entire surface of a sliding glass door in order to get a dose of nicotine similar to smoking half a low-nicotine cigarette.

CONCLUSIONS: This study indicates that people who want to believe there is a risk of thirdhand exposure to nicotine from e-cigarettes will believe anything, no matter how obviously absurd. Thirdhand exposure levels differ depending on the surface and e-cigarette brand. Future research should explore how silly, unrealistic experiments can further convince people of the potential risks of thirdhand exposure to carcinogens formed from nicotine released from e-cigarettes. The hypothesis that Nicotine and Tobacco Research will publish most anything as a “peer-reviewed article” is confirmed.


21 responses to “TrANTZlation of Goniewicz and Lee NTR abstract re “thirdhand vapor”

  1. So did they at least have a user exhale these clouds of vapor in that sealed room. I would say probably not but some folks would take that as a yes!

    • Carl V Phillips

      No. That is the point. They are claiming this represents the environmental exposure from vapers being present in a space, but they were just spraying the “firsthand” exposure out into the space. Only the most obnoxious “cloud chaser” just blows the aerosol into the space around them.

  2. Are Goniewicz and Lee not ashamed?

    They’ve published this and call themselves “scientists”??

    • Carl V Phillips

      No. Yes. And it is hardly the worst anti-tobacco or anti-THR article to appear this week; it just happens to be the one I ran across this morning.

  3. 300 puffs (i.e. about 30 normal cigarettes’ worth of puffs) of uninhaled (and un-exposed-to-mouth-liquidy-surfaces-too-I’ll-bet) vapor were injected into a chamber the size of a pop bottle (oh… wait… maybe it was a larger chamber? The size of Madison Square Garden perhaps? Odd…. they didn’t seem to mention the size in the abstract. I guess it’s fair to assume pop bottle then… sorta like a Schripp’s experiment.) that was sealed absolutely space-station level airtight (oh… wait… maybe it had ventilation? 27 ach? Hurricane Force Winds from Humongous Repacian Farts? Odd…. they didn’t seem to mention the air change rate in the abstract. I guess it’s fair to assume space station then … a Glantz-pleasing sorta design.) and they then left the vapor hanging there in the chamber for 33 millennia (oh… wait… maybe it was a more reasonable time? One minute, hour, day, week, year, or century? Odd…. they didn’t seem to mention a time in the abstract. I guess millennia is it then, eh … maybe timed with Lisa Bauld’s stopwatch?) until it had obviously ALL deposited onto the surface so they could measure all 135,000 picograms or so of nicotine per square inch (more impressive than mcgs / m^2, no?)

    Carl, did you ask the authors for a copy so you could review it properly? Of course they might play the Marita Hefler game and basically tell you to go suck if you didn’t have the money to pony up because they had “no interest in assisting you or your group.” Much better of course to keep the details of one’s research as secret as possible from critics who might spot its flaws, eh? Still, it’s worth asking. Some researchers have more ethics than others.

    Once we know the details we’ll be able to see just how many sextillion years one might have to crawl around in a normal room with normal air changes and a normal amount of vaping in order to enjoy the nicotine from a normal cigarette. My guess is that it will come out to a comparison roughly equal to the caffeine of one “chocolate bit” in a cookie compared to the caffeine in a 10 gallon commercial coffee machine. Either one will have about the same effect on a kid, right?

    – MJM

    • Carl V Phillips

      Oh, I am sure that is all there in the paper — I was not trying to suggest it wasn’t. And I could read the paper, of course, though it is paywalled so most interested people would have a hard time of that. But I don’t have much desire to do so. I was obviously not trying to do a full analysis of whether exact design details could have been a little better or a little worse.

      • Carl V Phillips

        Oh, and I should add that the abstract I ridiculed did not really try to make a big deal about quantities, so the design details that affect quantities do not really affect the result. But that failure to be serious about quantities is part of the problem I was ridiculing. Of course there are detectable traces of nicotine on the walls when you spray nicotine solution into the room. You don’t exactly have to run the experiment or read a journal article to know that will be the case. Whether the quantities are enough to really matter — that little point was pretty much ignored.

        • Actually, while I didn’t mention it in my posting, your phrasing about squirting nicotine spray into the room reminded me of a story and post from a couple of months ago about a prize-winning school science project ::digging:: Ahh! Here we go: from LegIron’s Underdogs blog, May 20th:

          Speaking of secondhand this ‘n that, I’m sure you’ve seen, we also have secondhand e-cig vapor…. BUT…. did you know that we’ve now even moved on to THIRD HAND e-cig vapor! See:

          You have to feel sorry for how these children have been abused. If this article is accurate, their “research” consisted of little more than blowing a concentrated vapor containing nicotine against a surface and “discovering” that some of the nicotine then actually remained on that surface.

          I sincerely doubt any encouragement was given to analyze the expected reasonable effects of the AMOUNTS of the vapor, NOR does it seem that there was any attempt to produce vapor in its natural environmental state (I.E., after it have been breathed into the human respiratory system and then exhaled.) and then take measurements.

          BOTH of those extra “conditions” would have been required to even PASS a basic science demonstration of anything meaningful in an ordinary science class… much less enter into any sort of competition for even a low-grade award for anything past elementary school. And yet these seem to actually be high school students and they seem to have been given the HIGHEST SCIENCE AWARD IN THE COUNTRY for this!

          What have they actually learned, and what have they taught other students in the process? Simple: produce what the “Man With The Paycheck” wants.

          Anyone want to bet on their chances of winning that award if they’d shown that smoking a few cigarettes in a room produced absolutely nothing capable of being measured that could conceivably pose ANYTHING meaningful as a health threat to people in that room in a billion years? Zilch. Their project, even though far more meaningful scientifically and socially than the one they did, would have been instantly tossed into the dumpster.

        • One of the Antis FFQs (Fun Forms of Quantification) involves simply looking at percentages while also attaching scary labels. It works best with stuff like neurotoxic poisons (like nicotine) and EPA’s hazardous air pollutants (like PM 2.5/10 — in common parlance: “smoke.”)

          Once you’ve got the scare-terms embedded in the reader’s/listener’s mind, you can then go on to cite the percentage increases in bars/homes/etc where people vape/smoke as compared to ones where they don’t. Thus the birth of the cute little $75,000 “sniffer studies” by Travis et al Repacians where they “discover” that there is (73%, 87%, 97%) more “hazardous air pollution” in bars that allow smoking than in bars that don’t. The same principle will show that there’s (73%, 87%, 97%) (or even, perhaps, 10,000%) more “neurotoxic poison” on the floors of toddler’s homes where the parents smoke than on those where parents do not. The fact that the po’ li’l toddlers might have to crawl on those floors for several million years to be “poisoned” is irrelevant. The “actual quantities” are simply never referenced in materials for public consumption.

          – MJM

        • Carl V Phillips

          Yes, that is a classic method of lying, using a measure that is relative to something that is completely uninformative, but sounds scary.

  4. Addendum: Actually, to be most impressive, the surface nicotine deposition would be best expressed as 520,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (520 septillion) yoctograms per square mile. (I think I got those decimals right… if I didn’t… welll… just blame it on a smoky brain.)

    – MJM

  5. I imagine a typical “exposure chamber” is quite a bit smaller than a room. According to the NIH article, she used “a syringe to ensure consistent puffs.” I can’t quite envision how you would operate an e-cig with a syringe. The abstract claims, “This study indicates that there is a risk of thirdhand exposure to nicotine from e-cigarettes.” This is a misuse of the word “risk” and no, it doesn’t indicate any such thing unless they’re talking about risk to a manic dog obsessively licking the floor of an unventilated chamber, which is where most of the nicotine landed. They measured an average of 0.20500mg per square meter of floor. So, in order to get a dose of one milligram you’d have to lick 5 square meters. To get a toxic dose, you’d have to lick at least 2,500 sq. meters, roughly half the size of a football field. Not being a scientist like the high school kid who ran this experiment, I must ask, are there any exposure chambers that large?

    • Carl V Phillips

      The syringe is indeed a mystery.
      I agree about the use of “risk” — good catch.
      I think “manic dog obsessively licking” would be a good job description for some people in tobacco control. Or the name of a band.

  6. Dr. Phillips,
    The maddening thing about this absurd farce is the irrational fear-mongering that aspirated nicotine, even most minute quantities, when mixed with nitrous oxides (wherever they come from in nature) form carcinogenic compounds that are as long lived and deadly as cobalt-60!
    Since we talking about aspirated nicotine, just where does Pfizer get a free ride from their newest spray placebo that is available in the UK (and the rest of Europe)? Is is, I assume, that is soon to come to the US because Nicotrol just came off patent two weeks ago:

    • Carl V Phillips

      Dishonest and/or clueless people long ago discovered that the average person understands even less about chemistry than they do about politics, economics, math, …, and so it is trivial to scare them with claims that have chemical names in the statements. The failure to try to quantify (or in this case, even do an experiment where the quantification would have any relevance to the real world), let alone put those quantities in perspective to show how important (or, more likely, utterly unimportant) they are shows that most of these people are not even trying to pursue the truth. The need to put this disjoint and dishonestly-presented numbers in perspective is, of course, why we commissioned the Burstyn study. But the liars can still go off in other directions, like the present one.

  7. I’m a little late to this party but I want to put this associated (nicotine) thought to you, Carl. I’d even go so far as to write about it myself if I weren’t a lazy writer. I might even consider this the bedrock of the nicotine issue. Here goes…

    While the war on smoking has gone on for even longer, we only need begin with the considered landmark 1964 SG’s Report. So since the war went full court press, they’ve had 50 years (!) to indict nicotine. They didn’t. In fact, that’s one component they’ve always conceded was “not harmful.” Surely in their zeal to eradicate smoking they would have been filled with glee to add one more “poison” to their war chest. They didn’t. I think that makes it obvious that they COULDN’T, rather than any mumbling from them that they didn’t need to since they had all this other evidence going for them. They love as much weaponry as they can get their hands on. I can’t imagine they’d ignore ANY if they had it.

    The rhetorical questions become that if there was an issue with nicotine too they surely would have that as part of their “mountain of evidence,” no? They must have studied it, seeing as it’s the second largest piece of their anti-smoking pie, right? There is no logical reply if asked, “why didn’t you indict nicotine sooner? You’ve had 50 years.”

    No, it wasn’t until the ONLY constituent in their newly hated e-cigs that can be linked to tobacco that they suddenly have this “epiphany.” We all know how it goes…. when they need “evidence” they run down to their basements to manufacture it. But this time there was a half century window which I believe it the most clear indictment… of them… making it up so they can go after e-cigs.

    We can talk about the deceit and flawed studies and dissect them all day long. It’s good sport. But what took them 50 years to conduct them is the bedrock question.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Audrey, excellent point. It is definitely in the category of “immediately clear it is valid as soon as you hear it, but not obvious until someone mentions it.” Well done. This is the value of years of experience and being a student of history, for which no amount of enthusiasm in a newcomer can every come close. (Also: you kids get off my lawn!)

      Now that you planted the idea, I can take it one further, having been part of the ST Wars for a long time and student of them from before that. Smokeless tobacco is much closer to “just nicotine” than smoking, obviously. Indeed, it is the reason that we believe that other smoke-free alternatives like ecigs are low risk. But the attempts to attack it have focused on hypothesized carcinogens present in unburned leaf and silly rhetoric about it containing 27 known carcinogens, or whatever. Even in the anti-THR attacks, they did not seriously go after nicotine.

      To be sure, we should not overstate them. There have always been attacks on nicotine itself to some extent. Even after you filter out the stupid ones where they call all of smoking “nicotine” and such, and those that focus on it being “addictive” (whatever that means), there were still others. There have been attempts to link it to tumor growth promotion. People who knew what they were talking about (rare in tobacco control, I will grant you) pointed out that as a mild stimulant, it probably increases CVD risk by a bit.

      And finally, yes, I think this needs to be written about. It is a useful and telling insight. Maybe we can collaborate on something.

      • Carl, I’m flattered and pleased you like it. I agree you add a good top layer to the idea when it’s even closer to smokeless and still yet no real red flags raised. Whispers at best?

        As I conceded that I AM a lazy writer but would love to see this put in coherent print I propose — as far as collaboration — that you write it and I’ll look it over to see if there’s anything I’d like added or to discuss possible amendments. Guess I’m baldly asking for you to do the heavy lifting :-) Lemme know.

  8. excellent point, Audrey! I have been wondering about the same thing.
    As a smoker of 35 years (before I switched to vaping), I have never seen scaremongering about nicotine. Smoke, carcinogens, blablabla ad nauseam – but never nicotine.

    Yeah, it is only since the advent of e-cigs which contain nicotine without any smoke or even tobacco that the ANTZ have started bleating about the oh-so-horrible nicotine. AFTER – mind you – all their nonsense about the oh-so-horrible dangers of propylene glycol or glycerine (remember the DKFZ’s “oil” lie?) etc were completely debunked.

    By the way, I wonder how much third-hand-nicotine deposits on my kitchen window pane when I simmer a pot of tomato sauce.
    Not that I have any intention of licking the window pane, mind you. But the chiiiiiiildren might… (although I do not have any. But that kind of fact has never stopped “public health” liars before…)

  9. Re the new vilification of nicotine: The NNK/NNL etc nonsense actually predates the real upsurge in e-cigs. I wrote about it in the “Thirdhand Smoke” section of TobakkoNacht, pg. 201:


    Winickoff’s fifteen minutes of fame was followed just a year later, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, by a study under the direction of Dr. Mohamad Sleiman of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

    Dr. Sleiman decided that rather than measure non-carcinogenic nicotine or incredibly sub-nanoscopic amounts of polonium, he would check for two substances called NNA and NNK, “tobacco specific nitrosamines” (TSNAs). These TSNAs are known to sometimes cause cancer when administered in high doses to rats, and the National Toxi-cology’s 12th Report on Carcinogens reported that the levels of NNK and NNN (another TSNA) absorbed by a man who regularly chewed snuff for thirty or forty years might be similar to the levels found to produce cancer in hairless mutant rats.

    Compared to snuff, tobacco smoke itself has much lower levels of these chemicals and they’re generally not thought of as being a significant contributor to total cancer risk, even in dedicated smokers. There’s clearly not enough of these chemicals in tobacco smoke to form even the most absurdly remote risk from secondhand or thirdhand smoke absorption. However, what Dr. Sleiman realized was that the traces of non-carcinogenic nicotine left on household or automotive surfaces might transform into carcinogenic NNK in the presence of high levels of nitrous acid. He observed that low levels of nitrous acid are common in home environments and went on to test for the formation of the nasty NNK in the presence of what he called “high but reasonable” levels of nitrous acid found in homes and cars.

    His research actually looked somewhat credible at first, but then my eye caught something that seemed out of place. Dr. Sleiman had used a level of 60 parts per billion of nitrous acid in his experiments. Knowing the way antismoking researchers work to please their funders and garner publication, I wondered if that truly was a “high but reasonable” estimate of what would normally be found in homes. The question was quite important because, without those levels of nitrous acid, the NNK simply wouldn’t be formed at levels that were even measurable, much less harmful! Upon checking several sources, I discovered that the average level of nitrous acid in the air of homes was between 3 ppb (parts per billion) and 5 ppb.

    The good doctor hadn’t used normal exposures of nitrous acid, or even double, triple, or quadruple normal exposures in order to get his scary results. He’d actually exaggerated the average exposure of about four parts per billion by roughly 1,500% in order to get any measurable levels at all of this toxin so he could produce a paper warning parents of the “danger” their children were in.

    Actually, if you lived in a home with nitrous acid levels at the study level of 60 parts per billion in the air I think the least of your worries would be micrograms of nicotine on the floor transforming into picograms of NNK and then being licked up for billions of years by chronically underfed and eternally constipated children accumulating it in their bodies. (In fairness, however, we should note that even 60 ppb is pretty close to zero!)

    Sleiman L. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, April 13, 2010, Volume 107, Number 15, pp. 6576-6581.
    Sebelius K. Report on Carcinogens, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service National Toxicology Program, 12th Edition, 2011.
    Jarvis D, Leaderer B, Chinn S, Burney P. “Indoor nitrous acid and respiratory symptoms and lung function in adults,” Thorax, June 2005, Volume 60, Issue 6, pp. 474-479.
    Lee K, Xue J, et al. “Nitrous acid, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone concentrations in residential environments,” Environmental Health Perspectives, February 2002, Volume 110, Issue 2, pp. 145-150.

    • Yes, perhaps a bit of extremist science took place in the recent past over more ways to find smokers killing innocent bystanders and babies (e.g. TSNAs). But we’re not talking about their use of nicotine alarmism in relation to how vapers harm others with their vapor. They have raised the issue of nicotine to the level of all else used to beat **primary** smoking into the ground in order to go after primary vaping. The indictment of nicotine in the “murder” of the smokers themselves is what has been mostly met with crickets.

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