Boston Study UKECRF'd

Posted 8th March 2019 by Dave Cross
The UK E-Cigarette Research Forum (UKECRF) is an initiative developed by Cancer Research UK in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS). The UKECRF looks at new studies on electronic cigarettes and provides a critical overview of each of them. This week it critiques research by the Boston University School of Public Health.

The UKECRF brings together policy-makers, researchers, practitioners and the NGO community to discuss the emerging evidence and knowledge gaps about e-cigarettes. The group also seeks to identify research priorities, generate ideas for new research projects and enhance collaboration between forum participants.

“Association of Electronic Cigarette Use with Subsequent Initiation of Tobacco Cigarettes in US Youths” was conducted by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and ardent anti-vaping Jessica Barrington-Trimis. Boston’s Adam Leventhal has previously worked with Barrington-Trimis on a number of papers and poor quality journal opinion pieces.

The team conducted a data manipulation exercise and concluded: “This study's findings support the notion that e-cigarette use is associated with increased risk for cigarette initiation and use, particularly among low-risk youths. At the population level, the use of e-cigarettes may be a contributor to the initiation of cigarette smoking among youths.”

Some would dismiss this work simply on the basis that Barrington-Trimis was involved, but UKECRF highlights the flaws in the paper and explains how it was impossible for the team to reach their conclusion:

“The reference group of this study combined individuals who never used tobacco products or e-cigarettes over the entire survey period with individuals who took up smoking without prior other tobacco product or e-cigarette use. Only 3.3% of the participants reported using cigarettes first, so the majority of this group were never-smokers and are not an appropriate comparison for establishing a gateway effect.”

“This study did not assess whether those who had tried e-cigarettes became regular smokers, and likely includes those only experimenting with smoking or e-cigarettes. No conclusions can be made from this study about a causal association between e-cigarette use and regular smoking or vice versa.”

“The study assumed that the survey questions used were valid and reliable measures of complex potential confounding factors, such as problem behaviour. This study did not control for all possible confounders that could affect results, such as nicotine dependence.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is one of the two institutions currently contributing $7.8 million in grants to Adam Leventhal. Thomas Hilton worked at NIDA prior to retiring, and also responded to the paper: “These data do not justify FDA hysteria.”

“We continue to see so-called ‘gateway’ studies,” he continued,implying that eCig use leads to teen tobacco use. Designs such as the PATH study provide useful information for targeting educational interventions, but they cannot produce causal results.

“Most of my Boomer colleagues were still smoking in grad school. Yet, contrary to recent papers warning of brain damage, we all got doctorates and subsequently quit smoking by our mid 20's. All teens experiment with things that are risky to their health. However, ‘ever use’ falls far short of daily or addictive use.”

Such things are pointed out to Leventhal and Barrington-Trimis every time they publish a paper but they refuse to listen. This type of work feeds into the public conscience and poisons the attitudes of smokers who would otherwise attempt to switch and reduce their exposure to tobacco-related diseases. Something needs to change.

 

Resources:

  • UK E-Cigarette Research Forum - https://bit.ly/2Hkv0YI
  • “Association of Electronic Cigarette Use with Subsequent Initiation of Tobacco Cigarettes in US Youths” by Berry KM et al - 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.7794
 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker