Thursday, January 17, 2013

When You Don't Like the Evidence, Make Up Bogus Scientific Explanations to Dismiss It: Anti-Smoking Mantra, Part 3

The fact is that literally tens of thousands of smokers have found electronic cigarettes to be a viable alternative to smoking and have used these products to either quit smoking or cut down on the amount that they smoke. The experiences of these smokers, documented by the skyrocketing sales of electronic cigarettes and the projections by financial analysts that these products could make a serious dent in the cigarette market provide an important element of scientific evidence that electronic cigarettes are an effective tool for smoking reduction or cessation.

This creates a problem for anti-smoking researchers and advocates who have already reached a pre-determined conclusion that electronic cigarettes are harmful to public health - a conclusion guided by their ideology which dictates that even the hand motions associated with smoking are scornful and must be frowned upon.

One approach to this quandary was demonstrated this week by Stan Glantz, who argued that all of these personal stories about smokers quitting using electronic cigarettes are invalid pieces of evidence because these smokers are quitting because of the "placebo effect" rather than because of the electronic cigarettes.

The Rest of the Story

That the evidence provided by tens of thousands of smokers quitting or cutting down on the amount they smoke due to electronic cigarettes is invalid because it merely demonstrates a "placebo effect" is a completely bogus scientific explanation for this evidence, and is a contrived effort to dismiss the evidence.

To explain away this evidence as merely demonstrating a placebo effect is a meaningless exercise in bogus science, as well as a distortion of the meaning of the placebo effect.

There are essentially two aspects to a "placebo effect" that Stan is invoking to explain the widespread effectiveness of electronic cigarettes in helping smokers quit or cut down.

First, Stan could be arguing that the effect of these devices is not due to the nicotine delivery, but to a placebo effect, because vapers believe they are inhaling nicotine. In other words, the argument would be that these smokers would have quit smoking anyway, even if the electronic cigarettes didn't deliver any nicotine.

If that explanation is correct, then electronic cigarettes are an even more promising strategy for smoking cessation than is currently believed. It would mean that zero-nicotine electronic cigarettes would be effective for smoking reduction or cessation. It would mean that electronic cigarette companies could avoid FDA regulation entirely by simply producing cartridges without nicotine.

Second, Stan could be arguing that it is not necessarily the electronic cigarette that is inducing smoking cessation, but that any product which is held and used like a cigarette would be effective in achieving this result.

If that explanation is correct, then electronic cigarette manufacturers have discovered the single most effective approach to smoking cessation in existence. In essence, what Stan is calling a "placebo effect" would be the mechanism by which smokers are quitting using electronic cigarettes. Far from negating the effect of these products on smoking cessation, such an explanation demonstrates precisely why they are so effective: because the vaping process mimics smoking behavior so well.

This is in fact a major reason why electronic cigarettes are so effective. But to call it a "placebo effect" is a distortion of the concept and is rather meaningless.

The bottom line is that Stan has stopped making valid scientific arguments, and is now simply blowing smoke because he apparently cannot find any valid reasons to dismiss the overwhelming evidence that these products have helped tens of thousands of smokers to either quit smoking or cut down on the amount that they smoke.

I believe that Stan is blinded by ideology: the idea that something which looks like a cigarette and is used in the same way could be a life-saver is simply not within the scope of possibility of many anti-smoking researchers and advocates. For Stan and many other anti-smoking researchers, this ideology is so powerful that it is precluding an objective consideration of the scientific evidence.

I highly recommend that readers spend some time digesting Dr. Carl Phillips' commentary on this issue. Carl explains much better than I ever could why Stan's argument about the "placebo effect" is bogus.

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