Author Archives: Shikha Walia

Clearing Up The Smoke Around E-Cigarettes in Vancouver

Late last year, Vancouver made the controversial move to ban the use of  electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in public places where smoking is prohibited as well as their sale to minors. The controversy behind the ban was evident by the results of a poll by Metro News, where out of over 2500 of its readers, 65% of people opposed the ban.

This may be because many people think of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, similar to that of products such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum. However, it is worth noting that in Canada, only e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine can be legally sold which means that e-cigarettes may not curb cravings as well as the aforementioned nicotine containing products. Regardless, when it comes to their safety in comparison to cigarettes, opponents may be on the right track. When the Canadian Cancer Society was asked whether e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, they said, “Yes, because the products contain no tobacco, nor tobacco smoke.”


E-cigarette and Cigarettes Side By Side Source: Flickr Commons                             Credit to: TBEC Review

So if e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than cigarettes, why the big fuss? An article in the Vancouver Sun about the topic made it clear that one of main causes of concern is the effect of e-cigarettes on youth. In the article, Dr. Meena Dawar, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, says that although e-cigarettes aren’t proven to be linked to any cancers, they are quite new and the vapour they produce may still contain certain carcinogens, cytotoxic chemicals and heavy metals present in tobacco smoke. Moreover, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that high levels of formaldehyde, a cancer causing agent found in cigarettes, was present in some varieties of e-cigarettes which is a concern as it would eventually be inhaled by the user.

Lastly, an article in the Metro adresses the concern that e-cigarettes are normalizing the concept of smoking  and are diminishing the work that has gone into making smoking ‘taboo’ in our society. Additionally, proponents for the ban argue that advertising for e-cigarettes often seems to be targeted to youth in terms of the different flavours available and the ‘fun’ packaging.

The YouTube video shown below is a great summary of the potential health risks of e-cigarettes.

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Credit:  CNN on Youtube

In summary, although there is not much conclusive evidence out there on the dangers of using e-cigarettes compared to what is out there for cigarettes, I personally support Vancouver’s decision to go ahead with the ban because e-cigarettes are relatively new and it is hard to evaluate their long term effects. Additionally, when it comes to the health of our society, I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to err on the side of caution.

Sacrificing Marketability For Clear Communication

A report by CTV highlighted that there may be an association between caffeine and an improvement in Parkinson’s severity ratings (based on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale) for Parkinson’s patients. Although I originally found this story two years ago, I still remember it today. The funny thing is that this is not because of its content, but because of the way it was presented and communicated.

When they first mentioned in the report that this study was performed on only 61 patients who had Parkinson’s, I thought, “That’s an awfully small sample size, how reliable can these data even be?”  I remember being angry because I had seen one too many reports in the news that talked about miracle cures that household items can provide to devastating diseases without mentioning the limitations of the studies that were used to make these claims.

I thought this report was no exception. However, as I read further along the report, I was pleasantly surprised. In the second half of the report, it blatantly stated that authors of the study noted that:

“The number of patients they studied was small, and the length of their study was short. They say it’s also possible that the effects of caffeine may lessen over time.”

It wasn’t required for the report to mention this, but I appreciated that they did. When health studies like this one are presented in the media as being totally conclusive, it may lead people to replace professional medical care with the remedies presented in the news reports which can be detrimental to their health.

I sincerely enjoyed this report because it guided the reader by laying out for them what the implications of this study were and what they weren’t, which I find is rare for news reports. It sacrificed marketability for truth and this was further exemplified by the title of the report which was:

“Caffeine could help some Parkinson’s symptoms.”

Although the title didn’t make any extraordinary claims and was not as catchy as some I have heard in the past, I appreciated its honesty and how it didn’t extrapolate from the results of the study.

Further along, the report mentioned how more investigation was required until the suggestion to add caffeine into the treatment for Parkinson’s could be made. Since this report, a study on rats (2014) has shown promising results that there may be a correlation between caffeine consumption and a decrease in the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The only negative thing I found in this report was the picture they included which is attached below.

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Source: Credit to: Nathan Denette

I frankly found that it added nothing to the article and was rather distracting. Furthermore, it diverted attention away from the implications of the study.

To further illustrate why clear communication of science is important, below is a video that emphasizes why knowing what type of study is performed can affect the way one should interpret the results.

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Credit: CurrentMedicine.TV from Youtube

– Shikha Walia