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Wild West SCHEERdown

The SCHEER committee considers the feedback it’s received to its ecig opinion as researchers talk about scientific showdowns in the “wild west” of research

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The Scientific Committees on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) has conducted two committee meetings where it spoke about the feedback it received on its “preliminary opinion on electronic cigarettes”. SCHEER’s work would probably feature in 'wild west' of research, as described by Scottish academics last week.

SCHEER’s 17th Plenary meeting(1) didn’t exactly spend a lot of time thinking about the wide ranging criticism its opinion paper produced. It stated(2) a number of half-truths and outright lies ranging from vaping causing damage to the respiratory tract, posing harm to the cardio-vascular system, that there’s a gateway into smoking and vaping doesn’t work as a quit tool.

It based its conclusions on an exceptionally selective review of published research and was roundly lambasted by organisations such as The European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates(3) and The World Vapers’ Alliance(4).

Rather than taking the feedback as a sign it had made a serious error of judgement, the committee was praised by the Head of SANTE C2 unit for its “high quality work”.

The minutes show: “The Rapporteur of the working group presented the comments received during the public consultation and the main changes in the final Opinion. There was a discussion among the SCHEER members on clarifications as regards the weight of evidence on using a range of risk e.g. ‘weak to moderate’. The SCHEER concluded that the working group should address the comments and submit the final Opinion for adoption via written procedure.”

In effect, it is deciding to ignore the bulk of what has been submitted. The following meeting provided an update, that the final version of the Opinion will be adopted by written procedure in mid-April 2021.

One example of feedback it will probably ignore was from professors O'Leary, Polosa, and Li Volti. They provided a comprehensive list of reviews and peer-reviewed non-industry studies to address errors and omissions identified in the Opinion.

They add: “The Opinion omitted reporting on the individual and population health benefits of the substitution of e-cigarettes (ENDS) for cigarette smoking. Alternative hypotheses to the gateway theory were not evaluated. Its assessment of cardiovascular risk is contradicted by numerous reviews. It cites ever-use data that do not represent current patterns of use. It did not report non-nicotine use. It presented erroneous statements on trends in ENDS prevalence. It over-emphasized the role of flavours in youth ENDS initiation. It did not discuss cessation in sufficient length.”

SCHEER’s use and misuse of science is the kind of thing touched upon by academics at the universities in Strathclyde and Glasgow(6). Although they were looking at the overall vape debate in terms of Scotland, their findings appear to apply to an international setting.

They talk about a “breakdown of old public health alliances” that has changed how people are using evidence based on who they are and how they earn a living, with those on the extremes not being responsive to new evidence.

We suggest that the perceived divisiveness of e-cigarette debates is attributed to recurrent media simplifications and tensions arising from the behaviours of some actors with settled positions working to promote particular policy responses.”

They argue that those opposed to vaping are doing so because they fear redundancy in a “new tobacco 'policy paradigm',” and try to lend credibility to the arguments they put forward by virtue of their “scientific authority” rather than through facts and evidence.

Will SCHEER take on board the voluminous criticism and accept that most independent evidence contradicts its Opinion paper or will they continue their journey to become tobacco control’s General Custer, bent of fighting an indefensible position to the bitter end?


  1. Minutes from the Scientific Committees on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) 17th Plenary meeting -
  2. SCHEER Ignorance -
  3. ETHRA Makes SCHEER Report Call -
  4. WVA Responds to SCHEER -
  5. Critical appraisal of the European Union Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) Preliminary Opinion on electronic cigarettes -
  6. Evidence use in E-cigarettes debates: scientific showdowns in a 'wild west' of research -
Dave Cross avatar

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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