Tuesday, December 01, 2015

World Lung Foundation Disseminates Conclusion that E-Cigarettes are a Gateway to Smoking Based on a Bogus Study

In a tweet yesterday, the World Lung Foundation disseminated the conclusion that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking:

@WorldLungFdn: Alarming study among teens in #Scotland finds that #ecigarettes do act as a gateway to #tobacco use https://t.co/4Cy1K0Y0i8

A subsequent tweet, citing the same newspaper article, stated:

"Alarming study among teens in finds that do act as a gateway to use "

This conclusion was based on a newspaper headline in an article published in the Edinburgh Evening News which claimed that this was the conclusion of a study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health in Scotland.

The headline of that article states: "E-Cigarettes 'Lead Pupils to Smoking'." According to the article: "School children are using e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking, according to a new study, led by Edinburgh ­University. ... The study was lead by researchers from Edinburgh and Stirling University, and published by the Royal Society for Public Health."

The Rest of the Story

There's just one problem here.

The actual study was based solely on a qualitative analysis of statements made by a small group of 13-16 year-olds in Fife as part of a study that was not aimed at determining whether e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. In fact, according to the study authors: "E-cigarettes were not included in the research design as they did not feature in interventions. However, in discussions in all participating schools, e-cigarettes were raised by students unprompted by researchers."

More importantly, nowhere in the study does it conclude that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. In fact, the only reference to e-cigarettes as a possible gateway is a barely coherent statement of one student who said: "... ah [I] think that’s why most people go on tae [to] fae [from] e-cigarettes to actual [cigarettes], just to see what it’s like, the actual wans [ones], an’[and] then they get addicted tae [to] it."

Unfortunately, the reporter who wrote this article badly misinterpreted and misrepresented the actual findings and conclusions of the study.

It appears that the original source of the article was an earlier article published in the Scottish Sun. The headline of that article: "Scots school pupils are using e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking."

But once again, the reporter's conclusion is based on the barely coherent statement of one student, and the study itself was neither designed to examine this question nor did it draw such a conclusion.

While I suppose that the reporters ultimately take responsibility for the content of their articles, I cannot help but believe that their behavior was heavily influenced by the continuing campaign of propaganda coming out of the anti-tobacco-free-cigarette movement in the U.S. and elsewhere, which has repeatedly disseminated the conclusion that tobacco-free cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. This misleading propaganda goes as high as the level of the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who claimed (based solely on a single cross-sectional survey) that "Use of e-cigarettes in youth doubled just in the past year, and many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes."

However, the most embarrassing and irresponsible behavior in this story is that of the World Lung Foundation, which disseminated the conclusion that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking based on the barely comprehensible quote of a single kid in Fife.

Is this what the scientific rigor of the tobacco control movement has come to? We are willing to draw definitive conclusions on issues of major policy importance and to disseminate those conclusions worldwide based on science no rigorous than the statement of some kid in Fife?

Sadly, the answer is yes. For this is precisely what happened.

Apparently, nobody in the anti-tobacco-free cigarette movement even cared to read the actual study, or if they did, they did not care about the quality of the evidence or whether the authors of the study themselves came to the same conclusion. It was enough that some newspaper headline somewhere gave them a great quote that they could use in a tweet.  This would be unacceptable even in an assignment completed by a third grader!

The rest of the story is that the World Lung Foundation disseminated worldwide the scientific conclusion that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking based on a barely coherent statement made by a single teenager in Fife.

The scientific rigor of the anti-tobacco-free cigarette movement has reached an all-time low. Need I say more?

(Thanks to Dr. Christopher Russell of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research for the tip.)

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