Rahman Not Using His Noodle

Posted 6th March 2019 by Dave Cross
A collection of researchers with a history for delivering negative results from poor studies has announced that vaping is associated with wheezing in adults. They produced an accompanying press release, which was snapped up and regurgitated by the Daily Mail – which failed to provide any comment or balancing opinion.

Irfan Rahman has been knocking vaping and harm reduction for years. In 2016, he was part of the University of Rochester Medical Centre research team that claimed vaping led to damage to gum tissue.

He followed this up the next year by claiming to have discovered a link between vaping and mouth ulcers. The team made fundamental errors in their approach to the study and the findings bore little relation to the real world. It’s notable that the intervening years have not seen any supporting evidence of either of these from actual case studies.

Last year, Rahman attacked the flavours in eliquids by exposing cells in dishes to a host of chemicals and assumed that vaping has a similar effect in real-life use, laughably saying: “we used rigorous and unbiased approach during experiments and data analysis.”

Now he is part of the ‘wheezing’ group led by Rochester’s Deborah Ossip, herself no stranger to flawed anti-vape studies. Ossip poisoned mouse lungs in 2015, claimed vaping doesn’t work as a quit tool in 2017, and whipped up hysteria about juice flavours last year.

In making the latest assertion that vaping leads to wheezing, Ossip’s group are quick to link the condition to even more unproven ailments such as “emphysema, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, heart failure, lung cancer and sleep apnoea”.

Of course, Study author Ossip says “the findings are consistent with past research that shows emissions from electronic cigarette aerosols and flavourings damage lung cells”. But then she would, seeing as members of the research team were responsible for a number of those flawed studies.

"The take-home message,” she adds, “is that electronic cigarettes are not safe when it comes to lung health."

Rahman picks up the punctured ball and stumbles: “This is particularly concerning given new data released from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that shows a dramatic uptick in youth vaping.”

The press release landed on Daily Mail’s Alexandra Thompson’s desktop. Thompson, the Mail’s Senior Health Reporter, has been responsible for ground-breaking health coverage such as “Stop drinking coffee if you want to lose weight”, “Drink a cup of tea a day … protect you against cancer”, and “Having sex once a week slows ageing”.

Remarkably for a health journalist, Thompson actually holds a scientific qualification – a 2:1 in Biology. This isn’t apparent from many of her articles, particularly this latest one.

Not only did the study fail to show increased levels of wheezing due to vaping, but Thompson unquestioningly repeated the farcical proposition that vaping then causes “COPD, acid reflux, heart failure and even lung cancer”.

Many people contacted Thompson requesting clarifications. One presented a table and asked: “This is the data from the report you wrote about, can you please show me where vapers are doing worse then ex-smokers (I see only statistically insignificant differences), might it be the damage was done by the smoking instead of recent vaping?”

Thompson responded by posting a link to the press release., prompting the reply: “So you give me a press release and probably suddenly it occurs to you that I have the actual report in front of me so you block me.”

The public deserve better from scientists – and the bare minimum it should expect from the media is that an “award winning journo” does her job properly, investigates stories and provides the other side of the argument when presenting junk science.

Wheezing could have been attributed to previous smoking or a host of other lifestyle choices – all ignored by the research team. The paper had one goal: to find “evidence” to continue to bash tobacco harm reduction and ensure the research funding continues to roll in.

For those interested in actual real-world evidence: “Lung function and respiratory symptoms in a randomized smoking cessation trial of electronic cigarettes” by Ricardo Polosa et al - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27543458

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker