Junk science is more prevalent than ever. A bogus study from 1998 claiming that vaccine’s cause autism in young children has been debunked countless times and determined to be a “complete fraud” of a study. And yet a recent Gallup poll showed that 10% of Americans believe that vaccines cause autism. That same poll showed that more respondents were unsure if vaccines cause autism than didn’t believe the claim. 

While it is concerning that 10% of Americans believe this conspiracy, it is even more worrisome that a plurality is undecided. This illustrates the damage that junk science can do to society by sowing doubt among the population, even after the blatantly false “studies” have been publicly disproven. 

Unfortunately, these pseudoscientists and their followers are quite prevalent in the field of e-cigarettes and vaping. The claims put out by these “scientists” are weaponized by anti-vaping advocates to push, and in many cases implement, policies such as tax hikes and flavor bans that have zero basis in actual evidence or data.  

Recognizing the importance of exposing these lies and misleading claims for what they are, tobacco harm reduction advocate and prominent researcher Carl Phillips released a comprehensive systemic review of popular scientific journal papers claiming to show negatives associated with vaping in April 2021. These journal papers are easily refutable, yet there are numerous cases in which anti-vaping propaganda has been paraded as “scientific evidence”.  

One such example is the infamous 2019 article from Stanton Glantz and Dharma Bhatta that sought to examine the effect of e-cigarettes on heart attacks. Glantz and Bhatta intentionally mislead readers by failing to disclose that most of the heart attacks analyzed and mentioned in their article had occurred before the subjects had started vaping. This article was so erroneous that it was retracted by the publisher, but not before a months-long effort, described by Phillips as “enormous”, to get the paper retracted despite a clear and irredeemable error. 

Instances like that illustrated to Phillips the necessity of an in-depth review of papers pushing an anti-vaping narrative. Working alongside Dr. Cother Hajat, Professor Riccardo Polosa, and numerous other academics and researchers, Phillips’ review determined that nearly all of the 24 papers the researchers examined were “fatally flawed”. 

Phillips’ and his team looked at the 24 most popular journal papers that “addressed questions of vaping causing smoking cessation, vaping affecting smoking initiation, as well as a few papers on health outcomes”. The researchers analyzed the papers to assess the validity of the research methods used, as well as if it was apparent the authors were trying to be “intentionally alarmist”.  

The scientific literature that Phillips and his colleagues evaluated produced “substantial negative information value”, with “only a few exceptions”. More crucial takeaways can be read below, while the full review can be accessed here

Key Findings: 

  • Of the 24 papers examined, Phillips’ research team was “unable to point to a single example of someone using suitable methods.” 

  • As a whole, the analyzed studies “reflected a literature that is not based on basic scientific thinking.” 

  • The largest problem that spanned across nearly all of the papers was that the authors “ignored the obvious alternative causal pathways”, meaning that the studies did not explore other variables that could affect data. 

  • Phillips and the other researchers were able to determine that “none of the papers actually proposed a specific hypothesis, identified potential causal pathways, identified what observed associations would distinguish between it and competing hypotheses, and performed the relevant tests”. 

Their findings are concerning for many reasons, particularly because these papers and the anti-vaping body of “research” is so often weaponized to justify anti-science restrictions on adult e-cigarette use. Through flavor bans and high vaping taxes, state legislatures and localities across the country are waging a full-out war on vaping, with disastrous consequences for public health. 

In Minnesota, a vaping tax prevented more than 32,000 adult smokers from quitting. Without these scientific papers and studies, shown by Phillips and his team to be bogus, Minnesota very well may have avoided enacting the tax, a policy that has undoubtedly cost lives.  

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that “a large portion” of the papers that Phillips, Dr. Hajat, and the other researchers analyzed came from research funded by the U.S. Government, paid for with taxpayer dollars. It should infuriate everyone who cares about public health or fiscal responsibility that the federal government is using the tax dollars of hard-working Americans to fund sham research.  

Those funds would be better spent educating adult cigarette smokers about the benefits of switching to a reduced harm tobacco alternative like e-cigarettes and other vaping products. In fact, according to a large-scale analysis coordinated by Georgetown University Medical Center, 6.6 million premature deaths would be avoided in the U.S. if a majority of cigarette smokers switched to e-cigarettes.  

Misinformation about vaping prevents smokers from making the lifesaving switch. The misleading, and downright false, claims presented in scientific journals and funded by taxpayer dollars are not only irresponsible; they are deadly.