Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Federal E-Cigarette Data AWOL

Americans are familiar with the census, taken every 10 years by the U.S. Census Bureau, but few are aware that the Bureau regularly collects information on a range of demographic, social and economic characteristics through Current Population Survey (CPS) supplements, which are sponsored by various government agencies.

The National Cancer Institute regularly sponsors the CPS Tobacco Use Supplement (TUS), which was conducted most recently in May and August 2010, and January 2011 (information here).  These datasets and accompanying technical documentation are available for download and analysis by tobacco researchers (here). 

Surprisingly, another TUS, conducted in May 2011 and described in a technical document as a follow-up survey that includes information on e-cigarettes (here), has never been released.  This conflicts with Census Bureau guidance that supplements “are available anywhere from 6 to 18 months after data collection.” (here) 

The 36-month-and-counting delay is troubling. 

High ranking government officials have been campaigning against e-cigarettes for some time, creating demand for FDA regulation.  The NCI, sponsor of this TUS, has been a powerful opponent of anything related to tobacco harm reduction.  Is it possible that NCI officials are not releasing e-cigarette data until FDA regulations are issued?

The NCI has suppressed positive data in the past.  An NCI-sponsored supplement to the 2000 National Health Interview Survey asked current and former smokers the method they had used to try to quit smoking.  One response was “switch to smokeless tobacco.”  Carl Phillips and I published an analysis of this survey, noting that it provided the first population-level evidence that American men have quit smoking by switching to smokeless tobacco (here).

Five years later, despite the fact that tobacco harm reduction had gained increased visibility and more American smokers were likely making the switch, the NCI struck the switch-to-smokeless query from the survey, denying the public information about this cessation option.     

Public health requires public access to taxpayer-funded survey data.  NCI should be an ally in this regard, not an obstacle.

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