Vaping Studies: The Science Behind Them

Scientists are Improving Vaping Studies by Studying Vaping Behavior

It seems that scientists just cannot agree on vaping. Studies on the safety of e-cigarettes report vastly different amounts of chemicals and contaminants in the aerosol (also known as vapor clouds), and it’s hard to know what to believe.

vapor science

The truth is, you probably shouldn’t believe any of it, or at least you should understand that most of these studies don’t say anything useful about vaping in the real world.

The problem is, so far scientists haven’t had enough information about vaping behavior to study vape products accurately. Many studies on vaping have been lackluster in part because they test e-cigarette vapor by “guessing” at how the average person vapes, or they use the same methods used to test cigarette smoke, as if vapor was just another kind of smoke.

The problem is, vapor is not smoke, and that the density, chemical composition, and other important characteristics of vapor depend greatly on how you vape.

But so far very little research has looked at how the average true-to-life vaper uses vapor products, and this has led to a large number of low-quality scientific studies being published that don’t really tell us much about vaping at all.

Luckily, this problem is well-known, and those in the scientific community and in the vaping products industry are working toward a solution: better methods and technology that accurately simulate what vaping is like in real life.

Simulating Vaping in the Lab: Harder than it Looks

simulating vaping


The first thing scientists need to be able to test vapor products is a way to simulate vaping in the lab. In the past several decades, scientists have gotten really good at simulating smoking in an accurate way.

They know exactly how many puffs it takes on average to finish a cigarette, the exact volume of smoke the average person inhales per hit, even the exact levels of nicotine, on average, present in the smoke.

But when it comes to vaping, scientists still have a long way to go. In order to accurately test vaping products and the aerosol they produce, scientists need to program a machine to create the same kind of vapor cloud that a person would. However, scientists haven’t collected enough data yet to know exactly how people puff on e-cigarettes.

Because of this, many studies on vaping use old machines and methods traditionally used to test cigarettes and cigarette smoke to test vapes and the aerosol they produce.

Until recently, there just haven’t been very many better ways to study vapor, and many study results have no more weight than a grain of salt. They don’t tell us what vaping looks like in real-life, only in unrealistic, sub-par lab simulations.

For instance, if a scientists wants to know what kinds of chemicals are in the aerosol cloud created by an e-cigarette, the scientist will create a vapor cloud and then analyze it.

But without knowing exactly how a person vapes in real-life situations, there’s no way to know if the vapor cloud made by the scientist is anything like the vapor cloud made by the average e-cigarette user.

Even if researchers find a high percentage of a certain chemical in their lab-produced vapor cloud, it doesn’t mean much in real life unless the researchers can prove that the cloud they made is the same as a cloud produced by the average vaper in a normal situation.

Also consider that an average, real-life vapor cloud could look very different depending on the person vaping, the vaping device used, the e-juice they vaped, and even more factors.

These are all things a scientist has to account for if he wants to get accurate and useful information about the safety and characteristics of vaping. Luckily, British American Tobacco and Nicoventures recently published a study in the journal Scientific Reports that gives some hope for improving vaping research.

British American Tobacco: Making Vaping Studies More Accurate

british american tobacco

Scientists and vapor companies are working hard to solve the dilemma of poor e-cigarette research by creating new technology that tests vapor emissions more accurately and consistently.

That’s why British American Tobacco and Nicoventure are working to collect as many details as possible about how people actually vape in order to create a machine that vapes the same way a person does.

British American Tobacco’s researchers have actually been pretty busy lately, and you can read our report on their recent study on e-cigarette vapor and lung cell health here.

For this most recent study, they used a small electronic device called an SA7 (Smoking Analyzer 7) to take measurements while 60 study participants puffed on a variety of e-cigarette devices in order to get detailed information about how vapers puff. Although the SA7 is traditionally used to measure cigarette smoke, the researchers calibrated it to accurately measure e-cigarette aerosol instead.

They tested two different vaping devices: the Vype Reload (a cartride-based cig-a-like device) and the Vype ePen (a rechargeable, refillable tank-based vape).

The SA7 they used to measure the puffs from each vape is a small, portable electronic device that collected data on the length of each drag, the volume of vapor produced in each drag, and the flow rate, or how fast or slow the air is sucked through the vape.

Using on the data they collected from the SA7 and real-life vapers, the researchers were able to put together a more accurate picture of what an average vapor puff looks like.

They calculated the size and length of each drag, the amount of time between each puff, the rate of air flow through the vape, and the amount of “sucking pressure” needed to create the vapor.

All of this information will help them better understand the act of vaping on a scientific level, which will allow researchers to build lab equipment modeled after real-life people and real-world vaping behavior.

One of the interesting results that came from the study is that puffing behavior seems to vary greatly depending on the vaping device. Participants puffed for about the same length of time on both devices, but the volume of vapor produced with each puff and the amount of time between puffs was significantly different between the two vapes they tested.

In Conclusion: Not All Vapor Clouds are Equal

Scientists have known for awhile that they needed better ways to study vaping if they want accurate results. A meta study from the British Medical Journal in 2015 emphasized the shortcomings of e-cigarette research, stating that only two research studies done up until that point had even considered real-world “e-cigarette use behaviors” when analyzing vape aerosol.

This study once again confirmed what anyone who vapes already knows: all vaping devices create a unique vaping experience and produce different vapor clouds.

They found that even different models from the same brand can differ greatly in many ways: in how dense a cloud they produce, the pressure drop when puffing, the proportion of nicotine that makes it into the cloud, and which chemicals in the e-liquid actually end up in the vapor the cloud.

Now, because of the research British American Tobacco just published, and continuing research on real-life vaping around the world, scientists have an even more detailed picture of what a vapor puff looks like.

Once enough studies are conducted and enough data is collected, scientists will be able to create the machines and standard methods needed in order to reliable evaluate vapor product safety and make more accurate comparisons between products.

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