Author Archives: Carl V Phillips

Throwing “lifeboat ethics” thinking overboard

by Carl V Phillips

Readers of this blog should check out a newly published short booklet that includes a cartoon by Marewa Glover and an essay by me (plus a brief introduction) on the theme in the title of this post. It speaks for itself and is shorter than many of the posts here, so I will just suggest you go read it.

One of my favorite observations to teach is, “the quality of an answer is highly dependent on what question is being asked” (most often in the context of what is the “best” research method — it depends on the question!). In this essay, I give it the companion observation, “asking the wrong question usually results in the wrong answer.”

Why is there anti-THR? (5) Needing an enemy and control for its own sake

by Carl V Phillips

Four and a half years in the making, this series is coming to an end (until I think of something else to add). Not with this post, but the next entry in the series, which will be a paper by Marewa Glover and me that I consider the definitive answer — collection of answers, that is — to the question. Well, again, until I think of something else to add.

For my new readers and those who want a review, this series starts and is indexed here. You will find, if you follow my writings closely or after reading the final entry, that some of my thinking has evolved. But it has not changed much. I still endorse almost everything that appears in the first four parts. Continue reading

Why ecig flavor bans are such a terrible policy

by Carl V Phillips

I suspect none of this is anything that my regular readers need to have explained. But I have been thin in my postings and an old friend asked for a clarification on this, so I thought I would do it. I imagined a Twitter thread and realized it is way too much for that. Also, I realized that perhaps I could organize the various bits in a way that helps clarify.

First, are the overarching first-line reasons why any policies that intentionally cripple vaping are harmful:

1. Interesting flavors are an enticement for people who smoke to switch to vaping and stay switched. We have overwhelming evidence that most switchers prefer interesting flavors. We have very solid evidence that many switchers would not have switched if interesting flavors did not exist, and good reason to believe that many would switch back if those flavors ceased to exist. Continue reading

Sunday Science Lesson: spookiness bias


by Carl V Phillips

The story of the week in the vaping space has been an outbreak of lung diseases cases, with at least one death, that has apparently resulted from a bad batch (or, perhaps, due to wild coincidence, two simultaneous bad batches) of vapeable synthetic cannabinoids. Of course, this has nothing to do with what we call vaping, other than sharing approximately the same delivery system. As I mentioned in my last post, the reason there was a bad batch is because the Drug War causes these drugs to be produced without regulation of any sort (including producers’ need to maintain a good reputation, which is really the most important form of regulation). The reason synthetic cannabinoids even exist in a world that grows perfectly good cannabis is also the Drug War.

Again, nothing to do with vaping, except in a cautionary sense: If the march toward banning most nicotine vape products continues, this might happen in our sector too. Continue reading

Essay on bans by Marewa Glover

by Carl V Phillips

I wanted to call attention to a new essay about bans by Marewa Glover, probably the most thoughtful and clear-reasoning person who still self-identifies as a tobacco controller. The piece is entitled “Do We Really Need Another Law? The cost to New Zealand of banning smoking in cars,” which describes its titular focus and the motivating policy proposal. But it is more a wide-ranging examination various implications of bans and tobacco control more generally. It is a long read at 16K words (which she calls a book, even though I would call it two long blog posts :-), but easy going and worth the time.

You can find it at her institute’s website, here. (Needless to say, by recommending it I am not endorsing every word of it. I have some disagreements.) Continue reading

“Vaping is a gateway” claims (again, sigh) and a mousetrapping metaphor for deconfounding

by Carl V Phillips

I was asked by Clive Bates to expand upon his analysis of this paper (open access link): “Evidence that an intervention weakens the relationship between adolescent electronic cigarette use and tobacco smoking: a 24-month prospective study”, which is “by” Mark Conner, Sarah Grogan, Ruth Simms-Ellis, Keira Flett, Bianca Sykes-Muskett, Lisa Cowap, Rebecca Lawton, Christopher Armitage, David Meads, Laetitia Schmitt, Carole Torgerson, Robert West, andKamran Siddiqi, Tobacco Control, 2019. (Scare quotes on by because you know when there are 15 authors, fewer than half of them even read it, let alone wrote it.)

It is yet another “vaping is a gateway to smoking in teenagers” study. Yet another one which provides no evidence that there is a gateway effect. It is yet another thought-free piece of public health garbage in which there is no hint of scientific thinking. Like most such, it was painful to read. There were only a couple of interesting bits. But it is an opportunity to offer some general lessons. Continue reading

Sunday Science Lesson: Bad categories, bad science

by Carl V Phillips

[Oops, I forget to click “publish” on Sunday. So here it is on Monday. I am keeping the title as is though. :-)] I was thinking about this topic because I just finished writing a paper in which it comes up, and also I stumbled across a paper from a couple of years ago, by my old friend Miguel Hernán, that goes into depth about some aspects of it (open access link; a wonderful and generally understandable, though slightly technical, presentation). The issue is how far you can go in agglomerating heterogeneous entities (people, behavior, conditions, etc.) into a single category in an analysis and still have meaningful results. Continue reading

Anti-THR, anti-vaxx, disease denial, and the political science of institutional “knowing” of falsehoods

by Carl V Phillips

There are quite a few takes out there comparing anti-THR activists to antivaxxers. These make for stinging attacks, like comparing someone’s position to that of the Nazis. Most of the loudest anti-THR voices despise antivaxxers, so it is fun to make the comparison. However, despite being a cute barb, comparing anti-THR to anti-vaxx is a terrible analogy. Continue reading