by Carl V Phillips
A new ANTZ on the scene seems to be aspiring to be the new Ellen Hahn. I supposed it is possible, given that he is at University of Minnesota that he aspires to the be the new Stephen Hecht, but that might be a stretch since Hecht seems to do somewhat useful bench science, and then just lies about the health and political implications. Choi, by contrast, seems to be fully ensconced in the “public health” junk science paradigm. Consider this recent abstract:
Objectives. We assessed the characteristics associated with the awareness, perceptions, and use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (e-cigarettes) among young adults. Methods. We collected data in 2010-2011 from a cohort of 2624 US Midwestern adults aged 20 to 28 years. We assessed awareness and use of e-cigarettes, perceptions of them as a smoking cessation aid, and beliefs about their harmfulness and addictiveness relative to cigarettes and estimated their associations with demographic characteristics, smoking status, and peer smoking. Results. Overall, 69.9% of respondents were aware of e-cigarettes, 7.0% had ever used e-cigarettes, and 1.2% had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Men, current and former smokers, and participants who had at least 1 close friend who smoked were more likely to be aware of and to have used e-cigarettes. Among those who were aware of e-cigarettes, 44.5% agreed e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking, 52.8% agreed e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, and 26.3% agreed e-cigarettes are less addictive than cigarettes. Conclusions. Health communication interventions to provide correct information about e-cigarettes and regulation of e-cigarette marketing may be effective in reducing young adults’ experimentation with e-cigarettes. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print January 17, 2013: e1-e6. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300947).
Let’s set aside obvious problems, like the limited value for anything other than historical tracking of an awareness survey about e-cigarettes from 2010, or describing 20-something-year-olds as “experimenting”, as if they are children. (Many of those crazy kids are also experimenting with buying houses, military service, and parenthood.) Consider the core conclusion. How can a simple cross-sectional survey of awareness and belief tell us anything about the effects of communication and regulatory interventions? If you said, “I have no idea”, you nailed it. It is a complete lie that the conclusion follows from the research.
And, of course, there is the little matter of which bits of information he wants to correct. Does he want to help the 55.5% who do not realize that e-cigarettes help smokers quit? Or is it the 47.2% who do not realize they are lower risk than smoking? As you might guess, it is the ones who actually know the truth that he wants to “correct”.
(Note: I trust my regular readers will recognize as subtle ridicule my use of three significant figures in reporting those numbers. As anyone who understands sampling — and anyone familiar with my writing — knows that reporting that level of unwarranted precision is a bit of junk science in itself.)
There is some potential usefulness in the actual survey in terms of helping us learn about the rate of at which accurate knowledge of e-cigarettes and THR has spread. However, what has no apparent usefulness are Choi’s thoughts and opinions, as evidenced by this interview.
I will skip past his first answer, a remarkably amateurish description of what e-cigarettes are, something that could be corrected by basically anyone who is familiar with the topic. (But go ahead and read the whole interview if you are inclined to find unintentional comedy in ANTZ rantings — it is a good one for that.) I skip that because it gets far worse:
There are a variety of reasons why e-cigarettes are unhealthy. First, they contain nicotine, which is a known addictive chemical. A recent study conducted by Vansickel and Eissenberg found that experienced e-cigarette users can obtain a significant amount of nicotine through e-cigarettes, which may be comparable to smoking cigarettes.
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine? Who knew? Glad we had that study (by the guy who originally claimed just the opposite and never admitted his error — but that is another story). And the reason that they are unhealthy is that this chemical is addictive (whatever the heck that means), not because it is harmful. Choi might want to ask for a tuition refund from whoever claims to have taught him about health.
Second, previous chemical analyses of the e-cigarette nicotine liquid found that some samples contain tobacco-specific cancer-causing agents and anti-freeze.
Yawn. Yes, this PhD “researcher” cannot do any better than some random county public health nurse, citing the propaganda (rather than the actual scientific results) from the FDA. Another tuition refund, please. Oh, but wait. Maybe that nurse could do better. She probably would not claim that e-cigarettes actually “contain…anti-freeze” [sic], but merely “an ingredient found in antifreeze”. The latter form of this is an example of lying with literal truths, of course, as previously discussed in this blog (did you know that breast milk contains an ingredient found in antifreeze?!! we should stop nursing babies immediately!). Apparently Hahn Junior does not even realize that he is reciting propaganda meant to confuse people — he is among the genuinely confused.
Third, with the product being promoted as a cigarette alternative at places where smoking is not allowed, smokers may use these products to sustain their nicotine addiction, and may therefore be less likely to quit smoking
And another “problem” that is not an actual health risk from e-cigarettes. That “where smoking is not allowed” pseudo-argument deserves a post or two of its own, which I will do that soon. So today I will politely refrain from pointing out how utterly moronic it is.
And that is all he offers. Not even a single claim of health risk. Apparently he wants to keep people from “experimenting” with e-cigarettes because they… …um… cause no health risk at all.
Oh, but it gets dumber. So much dumber.
I think the perception of e-cigarettes as cessation aids is of the greatest concern. First, this perception may drive young adults to use e-cigarettes when trying to quit smoking instead of proven-effective cessation treatments. To date, no studies have shown that e-cigarettes are more effective than proven-effective cessation treatments such as nicotine replacement therapy and counseling. Therefore, e-cigarettes may hinder young adult smokers from quitting smoking.
E-cigarettes are (correctly) perceived as being useful for quitting smoking? Well, that is a dire concern indeed. As for the claim they are not shown to be more effective than other methods that are “proven” to help a mid-single-digit percentage of smokers quit (to charitably take a best-case figure from the biased research on the topic), so what? Even setting aside the fact that he is baldly lying about that — the evidence strongly supports the claim that e-cigarettes are more effective — how exactly do they prevent someone who wants to quit smoking from trying those other methods if the e-cigarettes do not work?
Anyone with a basic understanding about smokers and quitting — even at the casual layperson level of knowing actual humans who smoke or smoked — understands that most people who are interested in quitting try multiple methods. How exactly can one method, even if he genuinely believes it is of no value at all, interfere with the others? Does he really think that smokers are so dumb as to say “well, I wanted to quit and tried an e-cigarette, but it did not work for me, so I will just keep smoking because I have never heard of any other method I might try.” Gee, if only there were some way to inform smokers that the powers-that-be think they should try NRT and counseling. Someone should really get on that.
And if Choi really believes that introducing a new method of quitting will actually prevent the use of other options, does he rail against the introduction of new NRT products or counseling methods because they will keep people from trying the existing methods he thinks are actually “proven”? I didn’t think so.
In short, either he has not even given enough thought to this topic to be considered even a generally aware layperson, and so is grossly lying about his expertise, or he is just making up lies because he wants a ride on the ANTZ gravy train.
Is there more? Oh, yes, there is more. It will have to wait until the next post.