Experts Discuss Ecig Ontology

Posted 14th March 2019 by Dave Cross
Dr Sharon Cox, Dr Janna Hastings, Dr Caitlin Notley, and Professor Robert West took part in a webinar sponsored by Cancer Research UK (CRUK). They spoke about building an 'ontology' for vaping, to help clean up the science and identify research gaps. This was carried out as part of their work for The UK E-Cigarette Research Forum (UKECRF).

The UKECRF is an initiative developed by CRUK, in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS). It brings together policy-makers, researchers, practitioners and the NGO community to discuss the emerging evidence and knowledge gaps about e-cigarettes.

The group write: “E-cigarette research is in its infancy, but the evidence basis is growing rapidly. As it grows it is important to channel resources into areas that will be most productive and address key unanswered questions.

It is equally important that the research should be of high quality, interpreted accurately and linked with prior research findings. Poor quality research and misinterpretation of findings by study authors or the media has led to confusion and, in some jurisdictions, policies that are at odds with the emerging evidence base.”

“Formal ‘ontologies’ are ways of organizing knowledge in domains that provide greater clarity both within a topic of study such as e-cigarettes, and linking to other topics such as the wider field of addiction. It does this by specifying 1) classes of ‘entities’ which are objects, attributes, processes etc. and 2) defined relationships between them.

This provides a basis for identifying gaps in knowledge, identifying contradictions and inconsistencies, creating models, making inferences and underpinning consistent and transparent methods of reporting. Their use has transformed other areas of study such as biology and they are being increasingly used in medicine and public health.”

“An e-cigarette ontology, lying within a broader addiction ontology, should help to 'clean up' the science and create a scientific environment of clearer thinking and consistent use of language and terminology, with the ultimate aim of optimising output and minimising poor reporting and unjustified conclusions.”

The kind of things the group believes need to be addressed include looking at study methods:

  • Who takes part
  • Study design
  • What is measured
  • Settings
  • Statistical analysis
  • The authors
  • The funders
  • How it is reported
  • What competing interests exist

They believe that the following list encompasses the key areas in vape research that needs addressing: uptake of vaping, quitting vaping, patterns of ecig use, the impact of vaping on starting smoking, the impact of vaping on health, if vaping reduces smoking rates, and attitudes to vaping.

The full webinar is linked to in the resource section below.



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