July 23rd, 2020

Canada takes a wrong turn after a flawed paper induces moral panic about youth vaping and smoking

Canada takes a wrong turn after a flawed paper induces moral panic


In June 2019, an influential and well-respected research group published a paper in the BMJ showing both a sharp rise in youth vaping in Canada between 2017 and 2018 – mirroring the rise in the United States.  But the truly shocking finding was that there had also been a sharp rise in youth smoking (not seen in the United States).

Starting from well before publication, the paper had a strong negative influence on Canada’s approach to tobacco harm reduction, causing a reversal from a promising and insightful pro-public health approach to making ad hoc responses to a mounting moral panic.  Yet it turns out the smoking figures were wrong – a consequence of a flawed weighting procedure.

By July 2020, a correction had been issued in the BMJ noting that with revised weighting, smoking had, in fact, fallen.  But, absurdly, the correction was buried in a statistical supplement and the published paper still states, inaccurately, that youth smoking increased in its results and conclusion.  The discussion section of the paper continues to discuss an increase in smoking that never happened. Given the political salience of this paper, a proper correction or retraction and resubmission is essential.

In this blog post, I unpick what happened and when. I finish with thoughts on lessons for researchers using this type of research to promote regulatory policies. >> read the full post

July 8th, 2020

The past is not the future - what lies ahead for tobacco and nicotine?

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” – Niels Bohr, Physicist

Let’s have some debate on the future of tobacco, nicotine, tobacco control and the tobacco and vaping industry. Here are three provocative pieces to get things moving. >> read the full post

June 11th, 2020

Louise Ross: Pragmatism versus dogma: freeing the inner vaper in smokers - Michael Russell Oration 2020

The highlight of this year’s Global Forum on Nicotine will be the Michael Russell Oration given by the superb Louise Ross on 11 June 2020.  Louise has kindly given permission to reproduce the text of her oration on this blog. This joins the collection of outstanding writing by Louise we host here on the Counterfactual.

My reaction on Twitter…

So here it is, the tex as given… and if you prefer, please see video below. >> read the full post

May 30th, 2020

International experts in tobacco policy say WHO is blocking innovation and wasting opportunities to save millions of lives

WHO NCD poster

WHO Tobacco Free Initiative and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – you have one job!

As the World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day takes aim at low-risk alternatives to smoking, several international experts have made critical comments in response. >> read the full post

April 13th, 2020

US vaping lung injury outbreak was a public health fiasco or worse - comment to FDA

Public health actors are now routinely more manipulative than Big Tobacco ever was

The Food and Drug Administration of the United States has requested information on “Vaping Products Associated With Lung Injuries” – see Regulation.gov and Docket FDA-2020-N-0597 to make a submission or read the views of others.

In my view, the sly attribution of this problem to e-cigarettes and nicotine e-liquids by activists, academics and supposed public health agencies has been as bad as the worst ‘merchants of doubt’ operations of Big Tobacco in the 1970s.  I have labelled it a mere “fiasco” only out of politeness because the word implies that only incompetence and negligence lay behind it.  But I think it was much more deliberate than that – and we know that because virtually nothing has been done to correct misperceptions that were created and spread across the US and worldwide from July to December 2019.

I don’t wish to indulge this propaganda operation by providing straight-up evidence to the FDA on this.  Pretty well everything that needs to be known is already known about the cause and consequences. What is missing is a truthful account of the response.  So instead, I would like to take the opportunity to speak truthfully and directly about what was done here. So here is my brief response to FDA’s call for information. >> read the full post