Monday, April 11, 2016

Vaping Opponents Can Miraculously Read People's Minds

A group of researchers who are attacking electronic cigarette use have apparently been able to determine that smokers are not using these devices to attempt to quit smoking. How were they able to come to this determination? ...

... Apparently, by reading people's minds!

As reported by the Belfast News Letter, a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concludes that e-cigarettes don't help people quit smoking. How was this determination made? It was made by studying the search terms that people are using when they use terms related to e-cigarettes or vaping while doing Google searches. And supposedly, the finding that people are increasingly using search terms related to "vaping" or "buying" e-cigarettes rather than using search terms related to "smoking cessation" or "e-cigarette health effects" indicates that e-cigarette users have no interest in quitting smoking.

As explained in a press release, the study "shows a significant jump in the popularity of the words “vape” and “vaping,” and a decline in searches related to vaping health and smoking cessation ... “The e-cigarette industry, the media, and the vaping community have promoted the notion that e-cigarettes are an effective device for quitting smoking, yet what we’re seeing is that there are very few people searching for information about that,” said the study’s senior author ...  “They are more commonly searching for terms like ‘buy,’ shop,’ or ‘sale.’”"

The author further explained: "Individuals in the U.S. often endorse ENDS as smoking-cessation aids, and some surveys suggest that many believe using ENDS will help them quit combustible cigarettes. However, only a small and declining percentage of Google searchers for ENDS included terms indicative of cessation. The context of this discrepancy is critical. When primed by survey questions, individuals appear to link ENDS with cessation, but in the privacy of their own home (when no investigator is providing options), it appears that searches for ENDS and cessation are infrequent."

The Rest of the Story

The conclusion that people who are using the internet to purchase e-cigarettes must not be interested in smoking cessation is ridiculous. Suppose that a smoker was very interested in using an e-cigarette to quit smoking and decides to purchase an e-cigarette. Naturally, the person might very well conduct a search for "buy e-cigarettes." How does doing such a search in any way indicate that the person has no interest in quitting smoking?

All you can infer from such a search is that the person most likely is interested in buying e-cigarettes. You cannot tell what the person's reason is for wanting to buy those e-cigarettes.

So how were these researchers able to figure out what the people were thinking? Apparently, by reading people's minds. According to one of the researchers: "Examining the content of searches can reveal the searcher’s thoughts...".

So that's how they did it!

Apparently, even though all they knew was that a person was interested in buying e-cigarettes, these researchers could miraculously read that person's mind and figure out the reason the person was interested in vaping.

Obviously, this is ridiculous. You can't tell from simply those search terms what was in the person's mind. You don't know whether the person is a smoker or a non-smoker. You don't know why they are interested in vaping. And you wouldn't necessarily need to type in "smoking cessation" if you wanted to use e-cigarettes to quit smoking. Moreover, there's a simple explanation for why people are increasingly using the terms "vape" and "vaping." It's because that's increasingly how e-cigarettes are being referred to, especially as second and third generation products replace cig-a-likes.

So why would these researchers jump to such a ridiculous conclusion? The only explanation apparent to me is that the researchers had a pre-existing bias against e-cigarettes and that they wanted to find evidence that these products are not being used for smoking cessation.

The rest of the story is that tobacco control researchers are so biased against e-cigarettes that they have thrown away the rules of causal inference in order to demonize these products, which in truth are being used by hundreds of thousands of people in an attempt to save their lives by quitting smoking. And we don't have to read minds to draw this latter conclusion. Thousands of people have actually told us that they are using e-cigarettes to try to quit.

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