Friday, 15 April 2016

Public health starts using 'industry arguments'

Another piss-poor study was published in Tobacco Control this week, this time claiming that point-of-sale (POS) e-cigarette displays make kiddies take up vaping. A bunch of researchers from Stirling University surveyed some 11-18 year olds and found that those who recalled seeing e-cigarette POS displays were more likely to be interested in using e-cigarettes than those who didn't. Or as they put it...

...recall of e-cigarette POS in small shops and supermarkets, recall of e-cigarette adverts online, and recall of other types of e-cigarette adverts all significantly increased the odds of intending to use e-cigarettes in the next 6 months.

Surprise, surprise, the researchers raise the possibility of banning these displays. Think of the children, etc.

There are a number of good reasons to criticise this conclusion. Kids can't legally buy e-cigarettes so it shouldn't matter if POS displays appeal to them. E-cigarettes aren't particularly dangerous so it is not the end of the world if some underage people use them, especially if smoking cigarettes is the alternative. And, from the supposedly all-important 'public health perspective' e-cigarette advertising is a useful way to encourage smokers of any age to switch to vaping.

But there is one particularly good reason to criticise this study: it's junk science. It is extremely likely that people who are interested in e-cigarettes will notice e-cigarette promotion more than people who are not. It is also very likely that people who use e-cigarettes will recall seeing e-cigarette promotion in the past even if they have not actually seen more of it.

This was a point made by several members of the pro-vaping faction of the 'public health' lobby yesterday when they were slamming the research. Paul Aveyard, chair of Cancer Research UK Tobacco Advisory Group, said:

'The authors found that young people who recalled e-cigarette advertising were more likely to intend to use e-cigarettes in the future and suggest this could be because the advertising prompts them to intend to do so. However, an obvious explanation is that people with no interest in smoking or e-cigarettes will tend not to notice them on display, whereas those who do will notice them. We look at what we are interested in and this is the most likely explanation of the study’s findings.'

Robert West, the vapers' friend at the journal Addiction said...

'...the results could simply be due to people who have tried e-cigarettes being better able to recall having seen e-cigarette advertising. Researchers need to set a higher bar for methodological quality when deciding whether to press-release findings in this area.'

Well said. The methodology is rubbish.

But hang on a minute. It's exactly the same methodology that was used to promote the tobacco display ban and it's exact the same methodology that is used by researchers who claim that alcohol advertising makes young people drink more.

In each case, kids are asked if they recall seeing POS/advertising. The researchers then cross-reference their answers with their smoking or drinking habits/intentions. Compare the methodology of this tobacco display study with this week's e-cigarette display study and you will see that the methods are fundamentally identical and, therefore, both equally flawed.

The 'public health' lobby claims that the evidence on tobacco retail displays is rock solid and dismisses the obvious rebuttal (that people with an interest in a product are more likely to notice its promotion) as an 'industry argument'. Aveyard and West are making that very same 'industry argument', presumably because they think (rightly) that e-cigarette advertising is a good thing for getting smokers to switch.

But you can't have it both ways. If point-of-sale promotion of cigarettes encourages young people to start smoking, it is hard to see why point-of-sale promotion of e-cigarettes wouldn't encourage young people to start vaping.

And you certainly can't have it both ways when the junk science you rely when banning tobacco displays is qualitatively indistinguishable from the junk science being used to ban e-cigarette displays.

The 'public health' racket did not suddenly start using quack science when e-cigarettes became popular. They've been doing it for years. There was a code of silence when they were unified in their aims but now that they have become divided by the e-cigarette issue, one side is having to call bullshit on the other. Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

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