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Doctors Dismantle Study Claiming E-Cigarettes Don’t Help Smokers

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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Scientists are savaging a new meta-study on e-cigarettes they contend suffers from obvious flaws that make its conclusions close to meaningless, chief among them, that smokers who use vapers are less likely to quit.

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, said scientists writing in The Lancet. “The review and meta-analysis by Sara Kalkhoran and Stanton Glantz on the effects of vaping on stopping smoking is not an objective assessment of the evidence,” said authors Peter Hajek, Hayden McRobbieemail, Chris Bullen.

“There are several serious problems with the analysis, but the most glaring is its reliance on studies that enrolled people who smoke, then asked if they had used e-cigarettes. Some 20 percent of smokers who use e-cigarettes stop smoking altogether, with similar or higher rates in cohorts of smokers who initially had no interest in quitting.”

“In a study of UK stop smoking services, smokers quitting with e-cigarettes have higher quit rates than those using other treatments. However, in the studies that form the core of Kalkhoran and Glantz’s meta-analysis, all these successful quitters were excluded. Smokers helped by e-cigarettes have left this population (because they gave up smoking) and only those not helped have remained.”

According to the authors, studies such as these are not useful for drawing any conclusions about the effectiveness of e-cigarettes. The paper is beset by even more problems, most notably the selective use of certain studies which warps its conclusions.

“There are other problems—such as selective inclusion of studies, and selective reporting of data from studies that were included—and limitations the authors acknowledge in the text but ignore in their conclusions. Detailed criticism of the methods is, however, not needed, because lumping incongruous studies together—which were mostly not designed to evaluate the efficacy of e-cigarettes, and contain no useful information on this topic unless misinterpreted—makes no scientific sense in the first place.”

When the study was published Jan. 14, a collection of scientists and doctors 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.”

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Guy Bentley