Friday, May 23, 2014

How Sad? Journal Article Needs to Remind Tobacco Control Researchers to Be Honest and Rigorous

An editorial published in the current issue of Addiction recounts the many ways in which tobacco control researchers have been dishonest with the public about the science regarding electronic cigarettes. It then discusses what needs to happen moving forward, and concludes that what is needed is for tobacco control researchers to be honest.

The authors provide several examples of the dishonesty and misinformation being provided by tobacco control researchers, groups, and policy makers.

Their chief example is striking: many tobacco control researchers are referring to electronic cigarettes as "tobacco products." However, e-cigarettes are not tobacco products. They contain no tobacco whatsoever.

The authors write:

"Many publications and statements by researchers, nongovernmental and governmental agencies and the wider mass media mistakenly refer to e-cigarettes as tobacco products. For example, e-cigarettes were referred to as tobacco products in approximately one in four abstracts about e-cigarettes at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco in Seattle [1]. The same error can also be found in the peer-reviewed literature and in writing by influential agencies. For example, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention website states that ‘emerging tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and hookahs are quickly gaining popularity’ [2]. While it is true that the vast majority of e-cigarettes use a nicotine containing solution that is extracted from the tobacco plant, this is similar to nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) and, unlike ordinary tobacco cigarettes,
the current e-cigarettes on the market operate with ‘no tobacco, smoke, or combustion’ [3]. Furthermore, although traces of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) have been found in some e-cigarettes, similar traces of TSNAs are present in licensed NRTs [4–7]. This mislabelling is exacerbated by national and international regulations including e-cigarettes in their tobacco regulations or proposing to do so."

The authors conclude with a section entitled "What Needs to Happen?"

Simply put, they argue that what needs to happen is for tobacco control scientists to start being honest, to adhere to good scientific practice, and to guide their conclusions by evidence rather than emotions.

They write:

"We believe that statements from the research community need to be evidence-based. While lively debates help to advance science and policy, adherence to good scientific practice is paramount. We need more rigour and oversight to ensure that interpretation of evidence is guided by data, not emotions, and that strong statements based on weak evidence are avoided. We need those reviewing
grants and research papers, and also those publishing such papers, to be accountable."

The Rest of the Story

I find quite sad that an article needs to be published imploring tobacco control researchers to be honest and rigorous and to use good scientific practice and draw conclusions based on evidence rather than emotions.

Is there any other area of science where the researchers have to be reminded to be honest and rigorous?

While I agree with the editorial, it is quite a condemnation of the current field of tobacco control research.

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