Smoking, vaping and driving – a question of risk perception vs relative true risk

A friend of mine once burnt his fingers on a cigarette he was smoking while driving, causing him to knock it from his mouth, from where it fell between his legs, setting light to both his trousers and the seat-cover. Miraculously he managed to steer the vehicle to safety, extinguish the flames – and ultimately explain to his father how his car seat had come to be damaged – without suffering serious or lasting injury.

Anecdotal, of course. Interesting partly because it was an event outside the normal run of things. It could so easily have had far more severe, even tragic, consequences – yet it’s not among the perils of smoking you will ever have heard much about.

I mention it now by analogy with a recently publish report of a study conducted at Oakland University in Michigan into what the headline calls “vaping-related injuries”. Or, as the title of the study itself, as published in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, puts it, “oromaxillofacial injury” – further explained in non-specialist terms as “head and neck injuries that can occur as a result of e-cigarette malfunctions”.


A good reason not to vape?


Nasty, potentially disfiguring, injuries for those unfortunate enough to suffer them. Worth considering, certainly, by the medical profession in terms of how best to treat them.

Injuries of this kind do occasionally make the news. Interesting partly because it’s an event outside the normal run of things.

It might very well be a reason to check on the quality and safety of your e-cigarette device, and the condition of the battery. But is it a good reason not to vape?

Antonio Dekhou, the fourth-year student who carried out the study, thinks so.

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    The Oakland University website quotes him: “When giving patients advice on why to stop smoking I think that this risk with electronic cigarettes should be discussed, too. Because if long-term cough, lung cancer, and whatnot doesn’t make someone want to stop smoking, perhaps the potential to have their face kind of blown off by an electronic device might.”


    A typical and casual confusion


    Here, yet again, is that typically (though not exclusively) American confusion between vaping and smoking – casually and carelessly mixing up the risks of one with those of the other by failing to distinguish the terms. Woolly use of language that leads, over and over again, to woolly thinking.

    What we also have here is a colossal failure to recognise differences between relative levels of risk.

    Does smoking carry a risk of lung cancer “and whatnot”? Yes, an enormous one.

    Does vaping come with a risk of oromaxillofacial injury? Yes, a tiny one.

    Should cigarettes come with a warning that they could cause driving accidents? Maybe they should.

    Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Benjamin Thomas

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    Aidan Semmens