by Carl V Phillips
I will write more about this later. I know it is a bit odd to lead with the response rather than the background analysis, but it has been a long day. By the time you read this, the first of the churnalism articles reporting the junk science claim referenced in the title should already be appearing, so you can see the details of what this press release was responding to. Here is what we sent out, copied below for your convenience. Please send the above link to reporters and post in comments when you see the inevitable stories start appearing.
[Update: Rodu on this.]
CASAA: New claims that e-cigarettes are a gateway to cocaine use are junk science
EMBARGOED UNTIL 5:00 EDT, 3 September 2014
A study released today by the New England Journal of Medicine is claimed by the authors and the journal to suggest that e-cigarette use could cause cocaine use. In reality, the study shows no such thing, and the authors and journal are just trying to score political points based on an unimportant technical study of mice with no real-world implications. The study results only suggest that mice dosed with nicotine one day react differently, biologically, to cocaine the next day compared to those who are not. They do not suggest that nicotine use will cause people to seek out or use cocaine.
Carl V. Phillips, PhD, Scientific Director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), observes, “This study tells us little about human biology and nothing at all about real-world human behavior. It does not even measure mouse behavior. The study provides no evidence there is a gateway effect, and there is no reason to believe there is one. Even if there were, this would merely offer one hypothesis about why it happens, and tell us nothing about the real world.”
The study, “A molecular basis for nicotine as a gateway drug” by Eric R. Kandel and Denise B. Kandel, looks at changes in the brain chemistry of mice administered artificial doses of drugs under artificial conditions. Even if the study is accurate in itself, it does not provide any information about gateway effects, let alone e-cigarettes specifically. But the authors add an unsupported and alarmist discussion about e-cigarettes to what is otherwise a standard technical paper.
The press release takes the claims even further, misleadingly implying that the study shows e-cigarettes will cause people to use dangerous drugs.
David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, told an online discussion group of independent tobacco scientists, “This is another example of journal press offices making routine studies ‘news’ by distorting the data interpretation.”
In the journal press release, the authors are quoted as saying “E-cigarettes may be a gateway to both combustible cigarettes and illicit drugs. Therefore, we should do all we can to protect young people from…the risks of progressing to illicit drugs.” But the study does not even provide evidence there is such an effect for the one drug it studied, and it contained nothing related to a possible gateway to combustible cigarettes.
CASAA’s Ronald A. Ward Jr., Esq., an expert in criminology, commented, “This is the worst excuse for a gateway argument I have ever seen.”
“This is a classic case of someone with a political agenda tacking their opinions onto technical research and trying trick the press into reporting it that way,” said CASAA President Julie Woessner. “E-cigarettes as a smoking cessation method are one of the most important public health breakthroughs of this century. But sadly there are those who would prefer that people keep smoking rather than finding a satisfying, very low-risk alternative.”
“The authors of the new study seem unaware of the fact that cocaine use peaked long after smoking rates had come down, exactly the opposite of what they predict, and that drug-seeking behavior in the real world is not at all similar to mouse neurobiology,” observed Phillips. “Moreover, even if their scientific conclusions are right, and nicotine use slightly increases the effects of cocaine, their political conclusions would still not follow from that. Imagine that a study found that eating apples had this effect. You can be sure that the authors would not be demanding restrictions on apples. This is purely a political agenda, one that is responsible for causing many people to unnecessarily die from smoking.”
CASAA (casaa.org), a public health NGO, is the leading representative of American consumers who use or someday might use low-risk smoke-free alternatives to smoking, including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. CASAA is a grassroots consumer membership organization, and is not affiliated with industry and does not represent industry interests.