Making mountains from molehills

Making mountains from molehills

It must surely come as no surprise at all that there has finally been a response to the Public Health England 2015 review on e-cigarettes from the hard-core anti-vaping opponents. So I wasn’t particularly surprised when the excrement hit the whirling blades of the media, no sir.

Simon Chapman comment

There had of course been a gleeful comment from Simone Chumpman that “the answer” (and I know someone said “42” to that) was coming “later this week” regarding the provenance of the “95% less harmful” phrase.

Whereupon did this flying excrement come from? None other than the “prestigious” medical journal The Lancet. Let’s put this into perspective shall we, if a topic of conversation arises between two members of Joe Public mentions something to do with medical research, it is unlikely that they’ll mention The Lancet at all. More likely they’ll mention which paper they saw the story which may refer to The Lancet.

Daily Mail article excerpt

The trouble with today’s flying excrement is that it isn’t actually research (as the Daily Fail pointed out in its scary story), it is in fact an Editorial. That is to say, it’s an opinion piece put together by the senior editorial staff, or the chief editor him/her-self. Sadly, the senior editor of the “respected Lancet medical journal” is none other than Richard Horton who believes that vapourisers are a “Big Tobacco” plot and has blocked a number of vaping advocates on Twitter for no reason other than our views don’t match his own.

So what has the chief editor got to say for himself in this case? Well, as a matter of fact absolutely nothing. You see, the opinion piece has been published anonymously, having checked some of the submission protocols for The Lancet this kind of goes against their submission policy.

Lancet submission form

Though I suppose being the chief editor has some perks right? Especially if you’re helping out your behind-the-bike-shed onanist cronies? Natch.

Claims in the Daily Mail

The “claims” supposedly made (at least according to the Daily Fail) are borderline insane, though with the usual media flair they don’t actually reflect what is in fact written in the opinion piece. “The Reality” according to the Fail is that the “editors” (of the PHE report) were aware of a “link with a company that is associated with one of the largest tobacco industries in the world… which produces smoking cessation products” and Karl Fagerström (the one responsible for the self-named Fagerström Test for nicotine dependence).

I’d bet that Dr Fagerström would be absolutely thrilled to hear that because he’s consulted with “the industry” before, anything he now touches is now apparently suspect. This isn’t science, it’s slander and both the Daily Fail and The Lancet should be ashamed of reaching a whole new level of absurd.

Shockingly, it doesn’t stop there. The Lancet turns its attentions to the lead author of the research they claim is “flimsy”, Prof. David Nutt along with the rest of the “small group of individuals with no prespecified expertise in tobacco control”:

The study led by Nutt was funded by Euroswiss Health and Lega Italiana Anti Fumo (LIAF). Riccardo Polosa, one of the authors of the Nutt paper, is the Chief Scientific Advisor to LIAF. In the paper, he reports serving as a consultant to Arbi Group Srl, an e-cigarette distributor. His research on e-cigarettes is currently supported by LIAF. Another author reports serving as a consultant to manufacturers of smoking cessation products. The editors of the journal added a note at the end of the paper warning readers about the “potential conflict of interest” associated with this work.

If “potential conflict of interest” is such a bad thing for research under the current peer review system why withhold the author’s information on the op-ed? Maybe because peer-review is, at least in relation to public health is flawed?



So on the basis of one study cited by Public Health England that has 2 out of 11 authors and co-authors have in the past advised or consulted with the e-cigarette industry or (shockingly) the pharmaceutical industry that the entirety of the 2015 e-cigarette report is invalid.

As with any opposing views on vapourisers in the media, this non-story has unfortunately gained a lot of traction as negative stories always do.

  • Headline
  • Headline
  • Headline
  • Headline
  • Headline
  • Headline

Of course, it doesn’t take long does it? Someone somewhere finds the twitter account of the article’s author and as always, the author rapidly plays the “victim” card.

Sarah Knapton

Maybe, just maybe tweeting things like this:

Sarah Knapton “addles” brain

After writing a poorly researched, heavily biased article based solely on an anonymous opinion piece in a paper that is considered to be “worth reading” by many within the UK what did she expect?

Perhaps she should take a hint from ASH:

To criticise Public Health England for quoting an estimate, contained in the expert review it commissioned, that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco on the basis that the methodology behind the estimate was weak is to miss the point.

I’ve been critical of ASH in the past on their luke-warm approach to the debate, seeming disinterest and antics towards smokers, but I’m grateful to Debs and co for being more open at this juncture. I’ll still disagree with them from time to time, but if ASH can see the op-ed in The Lancet is effectively slander to the nth degree then maybe it’s time The Lancet found a new editor-in-chief?

Just like that, some of the authors of the PHE report have issued their own rebuttal. Glorious.