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The Lancet Launches Another Attack

The Lancet medical journal has launched another scathing and unfounded attack on the work being done by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

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The Lancet medical journal has launched another scathing and unfounded attack on the work being done by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW). Despite being one of the world's oldest and best-known general medical journals, priding itself on its peer-review process, it’s editorial frequently sound like they come straight from the desk of Professor Martin McKee.

The Lancet has carried editorials and articles attacking the 95% safer figure [link], complaining about Stoptober [link], getting into a huff about the Commons report on e-cigarettes [link], arguing against a harm reduction approach [link], and most recently published “inaccuracies and misinformation in the Editorial” about vaping that does “a major disservice to evidence-based public health” [link].

The journal’s tendency to champion everything Martin McKee thinks about vaping began around 2013, when it ran a piece about the Professor so obsequious that it left any reader needing to shower with a scouring pad and bleach. This was the same time McKee confessed to not knowing anything about vaping. It’s still not certain if he has improved his comprehension over the intervening years, by 2016 he was suggesting vaping could lead to cocaine addiction [link].

The Lancet’s anti-vaping push has permeated most of its output despite McKee partnering with Simon Capewell, a man who is to intelligent debate what ice cream is to the construction industry, in their joint call for “evidence, not opinions” [link]. The pair have routinely refused invitations to debate and justify their stance on tobacco harm reduction, preferring to address echo chambers.

Contributor Talha Khan Burki has written 323 articles for The Lancet, just seven of them relating to tobacco harm reduction, vaping, or tobacco control over the last three years [link]. It would be reasonable to conclude that as these they are either driven by press release or internal direction, and this one smells of Michael Bloomberg’s money.

Khan Burki quotes Bloomberg-funded Professor Anna Gilmore at the University of Bath saying: “The [FSFW’s] Tobacco Transformation Index is yet another cynical attempt by Philip Morris International to legitimise the tobacco industry and to undermine control measures that have been proven to reduce tobacco use. None of the Index metrics attempt to capture the real barriers to progress in tobacco control: the ways in which the tobacco industry interferes with policy making and opposes tobacco control measures that work.”

He then repeats the trope, “the FSFW is simply an industry front group”.

The accusation has been addressed multiple times by the Foundation’s Derek Yach, including once in The Lancet [link], where he called them “unsubstantiated” and reaffirmed the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World's independence.

If McKee and the editorial board at The Lancet genuinely believed in evidence, it would cease to make recklessly ideological content and focus on a balanced coverage of tobacco harm reduction.


  • Tobacco Transformation Index under fire, The Lancet Oncology – [link]
  • Martin McKee: champion of public health in Europe, The Lancet, 2013 – [link]
  • Electronic cigarettes: we need evidence, not opinions, The Lancet – [link]
  • FSFW’s Tobacco Transformation Index, Planet of the Vapes – [link]

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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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