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Stanford Paper Attacking E-Cigarette Advocates Is Riddled With Factual Errors

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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A paper by Stanford Research accusing e-cigarette advocates of manipulating advertising and having close ties to the vaping industry is coming under fire for “factual inaccuracies” and “raises serious questions about the university’s use of research funds.”

The paper, which was published in the British Medical Journal, accuses pro-vaping group NOT Blowing Smoke of altering anti-tobacco advertisements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote e-cigarettes.

The Stanford team also claims NOT Blowing Smoke has “close ties to the e-cigarette industry” and was founded by “four creators, including an e-cigarette company marketing manager (Apollo) and vape store employees.”

But these claims are coming under scrutiny after the president of Not Blowing Smoke Stefan Didak contradicted the paper’s assertions. I was completely confused by this research. Two of our three board members have no affiliation with the vaping industry and none of our team members work in a vape store,” says Stefan Didak. “Stanford’s research team clearly missed a few things in their review, most importantly that we didn’t create any sort of counter-campaign to CDC.”

Not Blowing Smoke is, in fact, modifying what it believes to be a “poorly-worded CDC advertisement” that is misleading the public. The original CDC image shows a woman with a scar from surgery with wording that could be construed as blaming e-cigarettes for her collapsed lung.

In a formal letter addressed to the research team at Stanford and the British Medical Journal, the communications director of NOT Blowing Smoke Jason Downing says the images “are wholly intended to provide both criticism and commentary and do not use the CDC logo.”

Graphic designer Shawn Rego created a modified image that uses less than 3 percent of the original, showing a man who was a pack a day smoker for 10 years but gave up with the help of vaping. But the Stanford paper’s authors go so far as to accuse NOT Blowing Smoke of copyright infringement, a claim Didack contests.

“Jackler alleges that the modified work infringes on CDC copyright, but as part of the federal government, it’s unlikely that copyright protection applies,” says Didak. “We certainly shared images via social media. The backlash against CDC’s misleading campaign was completely a consumer-driven effort that we were happy to support.”

Didack also blows holes in the claim that NOT Blowing Smoke has close ties to the e-cigarette industry. Out of three board members, NOT Blowing Smoke is the only one that has any connection to the e-cig business.

“At any given time, a majority vote is controlled by consumer advocates,” says Downing. “We operate with complete independence from any e-cigarette manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer. We believe this paper falls far short of Stanford’s long history of producing and publishing fine research both in the tobacco control field and many other areas of medicine.” Not Blowing Smoke is demanding the paper be retracted in its entirety.

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