Reading research is actually a good thing

We all know that reading scientific research can actually be a bit of a bore, long phrases and technical jargon litters the vast majority of studies. Heck, they even have their own terminology; as if doing that makes the research they produce not for us mere mortals.

You will of course remember two articles from Vox all those months ago which caused all sorts of twittery shenanigans (refresh your memory here, here and here) with the author of the original article coming under a lot of fire from us advocates. Quite rightly too, the first article was, in a word atrocious. Ill-balanced, poorly written and had some serious bias issues.

The second foray into e-cigarettes by the author was a little more positive but still contained a lot of bias. Now it seems that the author is trying again, and it looks like she might just have made more of an effort.

So to sort through the research and figure out whether e-cigarettes are actually safe, I read through more than 60 studies, articles, and reviews, and interviewed nine researchers and health experts about their work.

Barely scratching the surface of the available information, but it is a good start. Reading scientific papers is a bore, I would definitely agree with that. It even gives me the occasional headache as I try to wrap my mere mortal, miniscule brain around it. But it is definitely a worthwhile exercise if you have the time and patience.

BottomLineHaving spent the time in reading up on the subject, the author has reached the same conclusions we already knew, e-cigarettes are less harmful. Actually I’ll self-correct there and restate it as substantially less harmful.

The trouble is, I still get the sense the author isn’t quite as convinced after all she states “looking for a nicotine fix”. I don’t know about you, but when I smoked it was never about getting a ‘nicotine fix’ sure, smoking has a psychological effect which made it addictive. Vaping on the other hand simply isn’t. I don’t vape for the nicotine, I vape because I enjoy it. I like the habitual motions associated with it, I like the flavours and so forth. I’m not looking for a ‘fix’.

Of course, I don’t particularly want to see non-smokers taking to vaping, but I have no issue with current ex-smokers giving it a go. After all, it is their choice right? The trouble with ‘long-term’ studies especially with e-cigarettes, is that the market evolution is far too fast for science to keep up. Studies started 5 years ago will be looking at hardware that is probably not being used anymore, thanks in large part to shinyitus but also thanks to the most important aspect; the consumer.

Bias

This is pure gold. Studies are limited in scope or flawed and biased by design.  Tell us something we don’t already know. The interesting nugget is the “authors have declared a conflict of interest, raising questions about bias”.

Conflict of interest, evidenced by her first article on e-cigarettes when she only spoke to our dearly beloved muppet Frampton A. Blands instead of talking to both sides of the debate. The trouble with COI is that it is easy to lose sight of exactly what constitutes a conflict, if I received cash from “Big Vaping” to research NRT but “Big Vaping” have zero say in the design of said study, is that a conflict? I don’t see it as such. Of course, if “Big Vaping” designed the study then that would be a mahoosive COI. COI by degrees.

Uncertainty

Here we have the ‘definitions’ of each of the research ‘camps’ starting of course with tobacco control.

who have spent their entire careers exposing the evils of the tobacco industry and view e-cigarettes in a negative light almost by default.

Basically anything that contains the word “cigarette” is evil, so an e-cigarette is a cigarette right? Natch.

public health researchers who take a “zero-risk” approach and believe that, given the unknowns, these devices should not be tolerated.

Otherwise known as nanny statists that seek to control every aspect of our lives. Most of those included in this group have zero knowledge of the product or tobacco control yet must have their two penneth heard.

The state of the science, in short, is crap. Many of the studies don’t pass basic tests of methodological rigor. There are only two published randomized control trials — considered the gold standard of scientific evidence — on e-cigarettes (this one and this one).

To be fair, she isn’t far short of the mark, although I’d disagree with saying the science is crap, so long as it is taken in context. Yes Blands I’m looking at you with your “ultrafine particles” that you grafted out of a smoking study into a vaping study and hoped no-one would notice. But the author highlights valid points:

Worse, many of them may be hopelessly corrupted by industry money or bias.

The trouble is that in this day and age, there is little that can be done to avoid industry money being used within scientific research. Science is, and has been steadily turned from the discovery machine into a commercialised outlet for the various agendas of the big corporations.

I’m not shaming all science here, though perhaps I should. There are many scientists that come up with a theory, do the long, hard laborious work to prove or disprove that theory then scribble it all down regardless of the outcome. That is, if their theory is wrong they still publish it. Most scientists are like that, unfortunately within the public health arena, there are far too many ties the corporations to really sift through and find true science.

The researchers also found that in 26 of the studies reviewed, the authors had declared a conflict of interest. They wrote: “Most studies were funded or otherwise supported/influenced by manufacturers of [e-cigarettes], but several authors had also been consultants for manufacturers of medicinal smoking cessation therapy.”

It isn’t just the e-cigarette industry that causes COI either, pharmaceutical companies have been doing it for decades to the point where it has almost become ‘accepted’ to discount tobacco or vaping COI but not discount pharmaceutical. That is a scary thought isn’t it?

For once, Vox might actually be on to something. After the last couple of articles, I never thought I’d be saying that.