Friday, March 7, 2014

UCSF Study Falsely Links E-Cigarettes to Smoking

Academics at the University of California San Francisco have used the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey to fabricate a claim that “e-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco.”  Lead author Lauren Dutra provided that quote to the media in a UCSF press release touting the study (here).  Dr. Stanton Glantz was a coauthor.  The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

The UCSF press release also contains a demonstrably false leading statement: “The study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.”

These percentages DO NOT refer to current e-cigarette use, but to ever e-cigarette use, “even just one time.”  I have analyzed this data before (here and here).  E-cigarette use among middle and high school students did double between 2011 and 2012, from 1.0 to 2.0 percent.  The chart on the left provides a truthful picture of e-cigarette use.
The Dutra-Glantz study consisted of a dizzying array of statistical analyses that could not possibly support their claim that e-cigarettes are a gateway to cigarettes.  Unfortunately, the media is headlining this false claim around the globe. 

The only positive note in this otherwise dark story is that, for the first time, Dr. Glantz’s fabrication was called out by the American Cancer Society and the American Legacy Foundation.  The ACS’s Dr. Thomas Glynn said in the New York Times, “The data in this study do not allow many of the broad conclusions that it draws.” (here). 

Dr. David Abrams of the American Legacy Foundation confirmed that the data do not support the authors’ conclusion.  “I am quite certain that a survey would find that people who have used nicotine gum are much more likely to be smokers and to have trouble quitting, but that does not mean that gum is a gateway to smoking or makes it harder to quit,”

There is more.  My chart shows that although e-cigarette use increased, exclusive cigarette smoking plummeted, from 4% to 2.8% among middle school students, and from 14.6% to 11.8% among high school students.  This dramatic decline further undermines Dutra-Glantz’s claims.

Anti-tobacco extremists have won this media skirmish against e-cigarettes, but at a price – their integrity.

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