A study, co-authored by a well-known opponent of vaping has been retracted due to unreliable research methodology.
A forced retraction by the journal is an absolute rarity. This action only occurs when an entry is fundamentally flawed, as it can severely affect the authors’ credibility and reputation. This is therefore very important news for the vaping industry as it could put down a marker for agenda-driven scientists, thinking of publishing misleading research.
The retraction of the study: ‘Electronic Cigarette Use and Myocardial Infarction Among Adults in the US Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health’ is music to our ears. Not because we now know it is unreliable, as we already knew this was the case, but because it publicly ‘outs’ these anti-vaping zealots as proverbial muck spreaders of misinformation.
What makes the retraction more poignant is that a co-author of the study was Professor Stanton Glantz. Glantz is renowned for his manipulation of scientific data to suit his misplaced agenda. He has strong links and relationships with the World Health Organisation. Glantz often publishes papers and opinions, supportive of the WHO’s prohibitionist position, with denial of any potential within a tobacco harm agenda. The WHO then uses his research to add weight behind new policies and regulatory guidelines regarding e-cigarettes; a dangerous cocktail for public health.
His conclusions are often drawn from particularly unreliable control methods but unfortunately, the majority of Glantz’s work slips through the net, however this time the professor had no such luck.
The research in question suggested an association between e-cigarettes and myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), but the journal’s editors have deemed the conclusions to be unsubstantial. This is a win for the vape industry, but it will not retract the damage that has already been done by the headlines earlier this year.
Why was the vaping study retracted?
The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, in July, 2019. Since then the editors of the Journal have been forced to release a retraction statement to acknowledge that the study ‘did not fully account for certain information in the Population Assessment’.
The reasons why the vaping study was retracted are stated by the Journal as follows:
‘During peer review, the reviewers identified the important question of whether the myocardial infarctions occurred before or after the respondents initiated e‐cigarette use, and requested that the authors use additional data in the PATH codebook (age of first MI and age of first e‐cigarettes use) to address this concern. While the authors did provide some additional analysis, the reviewers and editors did not confirm that the authors had both understood and complied with the request prior to acceptance of the article for publication.
Post publication, the editors requested Dr. Bhatta et al conduct the analysis based on when specific respondents started using e‐cigarettes, which required ongoing access to the restricted use dataset from the PATH Wave 1 survey.1 The authors agreed to comply with the editors’ request. The deadline set by the editors for completion of the revised analysis was not met because the authors are currently unable to access the PATH database. Given these issues, the editors are concerned that the study conclusion is unreliable.’
In short, the authors couldn’t substantiate whether the heart attacks occurred before the recipient actually started vaping. You can probably put two and two together and figure out that this is quite a pivotal piece of information when drawing the conclusion that e-cigarette use increases the risk of a heart attack.
The study suggests that vaping caused the heart attack, however without the time frames this is unjustifiable. The much more sensible theory is that the heart attack caused the vaping. This is called reverse causation. Simply put, a smoker is much more likely to start vaping after they have the scare of a heart attack. They decide they are going to make the switch to healthier alternatives to avoid it happening again so of course more vapers will have suffered a heart attack during their life because almost all vapers are previous smokers; a habit which is strongly linked to an increased risk of heart attacks.
At the time of the study a leading professor of medicine, Brad Rodu exposed the research. His critique ‘found the majority of the 38 patients in the study who had heart attacks had them before they started vaping — by an average of 10 years earlier.’
What happens to Stanton Glantz now?
As previously mentioned, the fact that this vaping study has been retracted is a big deal. In fact it is almost unheard of, so this is not good news for Glantz’s reputation, as well as the other authors. However, as stubborn as ever, Glantz has failed to accept responsibility. The author’s excuse for not providing the correct figures upon review, was that the database now had restricted access.
He also publicly response via Twitter, as he posted a link to the retraction with the caption ‘Journal of American Heart Association caves to pressure from e-cig interests’. The vaping industry clearly has a good backing on Twitter as many advocates voiced their opinions to Glantz.
Whilst Glantz may sustain his arrogance via social media, deep down he will know the severity of the retraction and the affect it will have on his reputation in the field. We will have to wait and see if this affects his credibility in the eyes of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Much of the damage has already been done as articles, like the one in question, have led to draconian policies being introduced. India, with the encouragement of the WHO, banned e-cigarettes in the country. With India accounting for more than 10% of the world’s smoking population, you can see at a glance, the scale of the detrimental knock-on effect that this sort of anti-vaping propaganda can have.
While the headlines have already been published and seen by millions of smokers and vapers, the news of the retraction is highly unlikely to make its way to those same media outlets.
The retraction of the statement is good news for the vaping industry but we must pose the question, how was this research published in the first place? And surely an investigation into the validity of conclusions published in Glantz’s other papers must be initiated? As vapers, we have unfortunately become accustomed to this sort of research due to the prevalence of it. These vaping opponents are relentless in their attacks and, whilst the consequences of their actions are extremely damaging to public health, these people are academically smart, and skilfully capitalise on loopholes to push through misleading studies.
We therefore hope that this is the start of a more rigorous peer-reviewing process for vaping-related studies. People are still dying because they are overlooking e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, undoubtedly stemming from flawed research, at least to some extent. We would be naïve in thinking that this will be the end of anti-vaping propaganda but this extreme action puts down a marker and makes a statement that flawed research cannot be published to help push an agenda.