Cheers to Vaping

Posted 2nd November 2015 by Dave Cross
“Devices encourage excess alcohol consumption,” The Daily Mail claims a study claims. The researchers from Purdue University in America were looking into whether there was a causal link between vaping and problem drinking. What will spring to mind instantly is that this is a curious area of research to be carrying out given that there have been no fears expressed in this area to date.

Participants completed interview questionnaires, which is convenient as nobody can check to their veracity. The full study was published in the Addictive Behaviours journal and contains a mass of statistical data tables and graphs –good for obscuring the flawed logic included therein and making it possible to entirely miss one key sentence buried in the text noise: “the cross-sectional design of the current study limits such conclusions.”

It continues: “Second, because participants self-selected for the study, individuals who used e-cigs, cigarettes, and alcohol were more likely to participate.” So a study that appealed to those who vape and drink obtained responses mainly from vapers who like a tipple and, in doing so, proved these vapers like to have a glass or two when using their electronic device. Genius.

“E-cigarettes could trigger problem drinking, a new study has warned,” resumes the Daily Mail ignoring common sense and forgetting to read the fine detail. “People who use the devices are significantly more likely to consume more alcohol than those who don't use them, researchers claim,” they said. Except that we’ve just proven they don’t.

“Scientists are constantly on the lookout for links between data to try and prove certain theories - but just because two sets of statistics match up, it doesn't necessarily mean they're are closely tied. To prove a direct correlation does not always mean causation, a Harvard student has plotted various spurious links between randomly selected statistics. These include a correlation between sour cream and motorbike accidents, Nicolas Cage films and swimming pool deaths, and divorce rates and margarine,” wrote The (contradictory) Daily Mail in 2014.

Correlation does not imply causation – it is a concept so simple that most school children discuss it in their Maths lessons. When the sea was full of swashbuckling pirates there was no problem with global warming, now we have a global warming problem and no pirates so the two absolutely have to be linked. Maybe the Purdue researchers could design an online questionnaire for pirates to find out?

"This area of research is extremely important and I don't want it to get pushed to the side," said Alexandra Hershberger, the researcher in charge of the study. "Establishing the direct health effects of e-cigarette use is important but it's vital to look at the secondary effects too." All fine and well, Alex, but when your conclusion is so spurious and laughably simplistic it probably won’t count for much outside of the Professor Glantz’s circle.

Rates of smoking are higher in the sections of society who experience mental health issues, so too is alcohol dependency or a reliance on other substances. It is totally probable that vaping coexists with problem drinking for a defined group of people but one does not imply it causes the other, to claim so is naïve and ridiculous.


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