Study Claiming E-Cigarettes Make Quitting Harder Exposed As ‘Unscientific Hatchet Job’

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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A meta-study claiming those who use e-cigarettes are less likely to quit smoking than those who don’t has been blasted as an “unscientific hatchet job.”

The controversial research published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine and co-authored by Professor Stanton Glantz reviewed 38 studies from across the globe and came to the conclusion that those who used e-cigarettes were 28 percent less likely to quit regular cigarettes than those who didn’t vape at all.

“The irony is that quitting smoking is one of the main reasons both adults and kids use e-cigarettes, but the overall effect is less, not more, quitting,” Glantz claimed.

The study suffers from critical flaws, scientists and tobacco control experts conclude, which make its conclusions deeply suspect.

Even before the research was published, the former director of the United Kingdom’s Action on Smoking and Health Clive Bates pointed out that anti-tobacco campaign the Truth Initiative had issued a withering critique of the study’s methodology.

“Quantitatively synthesizing heterogeneous studies is scientifically inappropriate and the findings of such meta-analyses are therefore invalid,” concluded the Truth Initiative.

When the study was published, scientists were so appalled by the faulty methodology and the hyperbolic media coverage that they took to Science Media Center (SMC) to set the record straight. Established in 2002, the Science Media Center’s philosophy is “the media will DO science better when scientists DO the media better.”

Professor Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), was scathing, calling the review “grossly misleading.”

Hajek argues there are several major problems with the meta-analyses. “The studies that are presented as showing that vaping does not help people quit only recruited people who were currently smoking and asked them if they used e-cigarettes in the past.

“This means that people who used e-cigarettes and stopped smoking were excluded. The same approach would show that proven stop-smoking medications do not help or even undermine quitting,” said Hajek.

Professor Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction, King’s College London (IoPPN), was similarly dismissive of Glantz’s findings.

“This review is not scientific. The information included about two studies that I co-authored is either inaccurate or misleading,” she wrote on the SMC website. “In addition, the authors have not included all previous studies they could have done in their meta-analysis. I believe the findings should, therefore, be dismissed.”

Professor of Health Policy, University of Stirling; Deputy Director, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Linda Bauld, noted for exposing poor media coverage of a study on e-cigarettes and cancer, said:

While its breath is to be commended, its conclusions (that e-cigarettes don’t work for smoking cessation) are at best tentative and at worst incorrect. The main reason for this is that attempting to directly compare the results of a body of literature that uses such a wide range of study designs and includes such variable (and often poorly defined) populations and outcomes are difficult, if not impossible. Some of the observational studies included in the review, in particular, suffer from a range of limitations that don’t allow us to reliably assess whether e-cigarettes help smokers quit.

Not only was the study itself subjected to harsh treatment by the public health community but the entire process that allowed this kind of research to make its way into an allegedly respectable journal was called into question.

“Publication of this study represents a major failure of the peer review system in this journal,” said Prof. Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology at University College London.

President of the American Vaping Association, Gregory Conley was alarmed that the research was published and widely reported on without mentioning the criticisms of other scientists, telling The Daily Caller News Foundation:

There is a good reason why so many prominent public health researchers are strongly criticizing this study. Simply put, the review is an unscientific hatchet job that fails to follow even the most basic rules that govern the conducting of meta-analyses. The paper should have never been published.

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