Carry On Nurse

Posted 23rd September 2015 by Dave Cross
Variations of the saying “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” have been attributed to many people – but the fact remains that scare stories about vaping and poor research gets a lot of traction in the media. Strong rebuttals are important, and this week a forthright piece was carried in The Nursing Times.

In what is becoming an almost weekly occurrence in California, The Sacramento Bee carried yet another anonymous editorial damming electronic cigarettes. Study adds urgency to call for e-cigarette regulation, they screamed. “The Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that kids who try e-cigs are far more likely to graduate to regular cigarettes,” they wrote in another hysterical piece demanding over the top legislation.

The flimsy study, according to the Californian rag, “found that e-cigarettes are – as suspected – a gateway habit, opening the door to a public health menace.”

They weren’t the only ones to over-egg a pudding. Jenni Middleton, editor of The Nursing Times, wrote: “The Telegraph and the Mail Online overplayed the fears about e-cigarettes being a gateway for teens into tobacco use. The Telegraph wrongly stated that 68% of those who had tried e-cigarettes went on to smoke tobacco – the true figure was 37.5%. The Mail Online reported the percentages correctly, but did not say that these results were based on just 16 young people who had tried e-cigarettes.”

“Young people who try e-cigarettes are much more likely to start smoking, scientists have concluded,” wrote The Telegraph. Jenni points out this sweeping statement was based on so few responses (16 from 700 subjects) that the word flimsy doesn’t begin to describe the conclusion. Worse, only six teenagers took up smoking.

Middleton continues: “the reporting of the study could give the impression that the findings represented a consensus opinion, which is certainly not the case. The study has come in for harsh criticism from independent experts in public health.”

And she isn’t alone. Professor Robert West, who must be tiring of constantly having to counter such nonsense, adds: “This kind of propaganda by major medical journals brings public health science into disrepute and is grist to the mill of apologists for the tobacco industry who accuse us of ‘junk science’.”

Middleton highlights a further flaw in the JAMA study: “Of the people surveyed, 728, only 507 of these people responded to the survey again a year later.”  The six who admitted vaping only stated they “tried” a cigarette during the intervening year not that they were fulltime smokers. Sixty-three respondents said they “might” try a cigarette in future if offered one but the data still tells us nothing – certainly nothing that could lead to the headlines in the media.

As part of her conclusion, Jenni Middleton adds: “this type of study can never prove that one thing (in this case trying e-cigarettes) causes another (trying tobacco cigarettes). Young people try lots of things while they grow up, and some people are more likely than others to take risks. It is perhaps not surprising that those who try e-cigarettes are also more likely to try tobacco.”

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