Although we officially launched the BSCiTS campaign just a week ago, our team at Boston University has invested substantial intellectual, logistical, and spiritual effort into this project for more than a year. We truly believed this campaign would be a success, and we want to extend our sincere gratitude to those from the vaping community and electronic cigarette industry who supported the development and launch of the campaign, as well as the administrative and development offices of Boston University School of Public Health.
We would like to explain our reasons for discontinuing BSCiTS.
1. Divisiveness within the e-cigarette community. The passion of the engaged, vocal members of the vaping community and e-cigarette industry is what inspired us to develop the BSCiTS project in the first place. Unfortunately, however, we discovered that there is great divisiveness within the e-cigarette community regarding the role of research—including what type of research should be done, who should do it, and who should pay for it. We welcomed feedback and suggestions about creating an optimal study design for BSCiTS, and we sought to be responsive to concerns about study methodology. However, the tone of feedback directed at our team quickly became hostile. Our integrity as researchers was questioned, and criticism quickly shifted from concerns about study methods to personal attacks.
2. BSCiTS was sparking further divisiveness. Our campaign was only public for a week, but in that short period of time it became evident it was exacerbating other, deeper fissures and ideological differences within the e-cigarette community. We were disturbed to find one organization in particular actively undermining our campaign efforts. It became apparent there is disagreement in the e-cigarette community about the need for rigorous research of the caliber that the FDA will require.
3. Initial reception from e-cigarette industry was not positive enough. Though we received much encouragement to develop and launch the BSCiTS campaign, the response from industry to our funding appeal was lukewarm. We are not confident that BSCiTS could receive enough financial support from independent e-cigarette companies to fund a rigorous study design.
4. Pressure to compromise study objectivity. Finally, and most importantly, we received pressure from a major e-cigarette advocacy group to alter our proposed study design in order to produce a more positive outcome. Attempting to exert influence on independent researchers to produce more favorable results is deeply unethical and extremely problematic. Moreover, this is hypocritical given the e-cigarette community’s rejection of biased research studies produced by tobacco companies and public health professionals alike. We are unwilling to compromise our scientific integrity in order to conduct a study on behalf of the e-cigarette community. We came to realize that the current climate within the e-cigarette community is not conducive to conducting objective behavioral research at the level of rigor upon which we insist. Ultimately, we have to place our own scientific integrity ahead of the desire to successfully secure research funding.
It is a sad day for us. We want to reiterate how much we appreciate those in the e-cigarette community—from individual vapers to entire companies—who believed in BSCiTS. Your encouragement and support has been incredibly meaningful.
Michael Siegel, MD MPH and Sarah Roberts, MPH