a study touted by anti-vaping activists claiming to show vaping causes heart attacks has been shown to have critically flawed methodology and conclusions
A dated student project has been making the rounds on social media touting itself as new research connecting the use of vaporizers to heart attacks. In a new article renowned Tobacco Control Expert Dr. Carl V. Phillips takes this study to task, tackling its various claims point by point. The study, titled A cross-sectional study reveals an association between electronic cigarette use and myocardial infarction was initially presented as a George Washington University research day poster in the spring of 2017.
Whether through cajoling or bribery, infamous anti-vaping activist Stanton Glantz resurrected the study, claimed authorship for the students work, and attempted to peddle a new version of the poster at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco conference. This suspicious study is riddled with misleading research and flawed methodology from beginning to end.
The “New Study”
The original work was produced by students who aren’t even associated with Glantz or his institution. It simply compared participant history of heart attacks among vapers to non-vapers. They only controlled for age, a crude measure of smoker status, along with a few other variables tossed in for show.That work only claimed a 43% higher incidence of heart attacks among vapers and merely noted that a possible association was worth investigating. Glantz, understanding the importance of needing to publish flashy studies frequently to secure funding and tenure, exercised model shopping techniques to overstate the student’s conclusions. His version of the survey nearly doubled the estimated risk evaluation and went so far as to claim his version shows that vaping causes heart attacks. He even had the university publish a jazzed-up press release to exaggerate his already erroneous claims further.
We live in an era where only the flashiest of studies garner the most attention and focus from mainstream outlets. An era where academics routinely tweak their methodology and manipulate their results in an attempt to produce the most eye-catching conclusions that culminate in nothing more than a blurb of misinformation disseminated on your Morning News show of choice. Of course, this is more of a problem with the way research is funded, as the studies with flashier results and headlines often garner the most attention and funding. Whereas critical but less attractive research such as vaping replication studies tend to go unnoticed, often left by the wayside.
In a recently published article, renowned Tobacco Control Expert and Public Health Professor Dr. Carl V. Phillips rebukes various claims raised by the students as well as dismantling its flawed methodology and having a few choice words for the “author” himself. The article, titled Study Claiming Vaping Causes Heart Attacks Has Fatal Flaws opens with a brief history of the original study that I’ve summarized above and then delves directly into an onslaught of counterclaims and rebuttals.
One of the most fundamental concerns and criticisms noted by Dr. Phillips and other critics of the study is the fact the data fails to indicate when the heart attacks took place. They could have easily had a heart attack before they had even started vaping and this distinction wouldn’t be noted in the results. Also, users who may have recently had a heart attack would be more likely to take up vaping to help themselves quit, which would also not be noted in the results.
Another vital flaw in the research is the failure to account for participant smoking history adequately. Glantz claims the study controls for smoking by including variables for present and former smoking. However, it is commonly understood and accepted that smokers who smoke more often and smoke more cigarettes face a higher risk of disease and complications such as heart attacks. Decades of research regarding smokeless tobacco products have made it clear and evident that trying to control for smoking is fruitless.
The primary issue critics such as Dr. Phillips take with the study, aside from faulty methodology and conclusions, of course, are the negative perceptions against vaping they create and detract from the value e-cigarettes offer as a reduced harm device and smoking cessation tool. Personally, I do believe more long-term research needs to be conducted to fully answer the question of how much safer than smoking they are, as well as their efficacy as a smoking cessation aid. However, embellished studies such as Dr. Glantz’s only muddy the waters and fail to create any meaningful discourse about their value, or lack of value, as a harm reduction tool.
Studies such as this would benefit from examining vapers who never smoked exclusively, although that’s a remarkably small group primarily made up of participants who would be too young to be included in a disease outcome study. So, in reality, any honest research looking to assess the impacts of vaping on your health would need to do a remarkable job of measuring for variables such as the frequency of smoking and how recently someone may have quit. But if we believe that reducing the harm posed by smoking is essential, we must support research answering these difficult questions.
Is flashy attention-grabbing clickbait science harmful? Do you think researchers need to be more thorough in their studies? How do you believe studies such as this impact the coverage surrounding vaping? Let us know what you think in the comments below and feel free to follow Cocktail Nerd on Twitter and Facebook.