Tag Archives: Kelvin Choi

Peer review in “public health” — Tobacco Control journal own-goal edition

by Carl V Phillips

Clive Bates prods me to write something about this editorial in the journal/political magazine/comic book, Tobacco Control, by Editor-in-Chief Ruth Malone, honoring their “top reviewers”. (Oh, wait, it is a British publishing house, so that should be: “honouring their toup reviewers”.) You can view it yourself, because it is open access, unlike their regular articles which they hide behind a paywall to inhibit real peer review (very few libraries subscribe to Tobacco Control, to their great credit). They really should have hidden this one from scrutiny too. Continue reading

Anti-THR liars of the year #6, #5, and #4: Minnesota, NYC, and the EU

The countdown continues with:

  • Anti-THR liar #6: Minnesota: politicians, the University of Minnesota, and Kelvin Choi
  • Anti-THR liar #5: New York City politicians and activists
  • Anti-THR liar #4: European Union politicians and civil servants masters

No, we are not calling particular land areas liars. Instead, today’s “winners” in the liar derby represent the rhetoric surrounding these places’ THR policies. These three cases share the characteristic that the lying has been more the outgrowth of a particular policy goal than the cause of it.  That is, the anti-THR policies were not motivated by factual claims, whether true or false.  The lying followed the policy process rather than leading it, and served merely to try to win over a few more votes and rationalize the policy to the masses.  Unfortunately, it also spills over into influencing policy decisions in other jurisdictions where the facts (and thus the lies) are considered by the decision-makers.

As with most entries in this list, they are standing in for other similar examples (or at least Minnesota and New York are — there is nothing in the world quite like the EU).  So if you think Oklahoma should be there along with Minnesota, or any number of cities alongside New York, please consider them included by reference.  And for the majority of humanity that does not share CASAA’s geographic focus, I invite you to expand that to other places in the world (though we do mention both Europe and Canada today — and the rest of the world is represented tomorrow — because our analysis is not so USA-centric as our political activity necessarily is).

But though there are other candidate examples, there is something quite interesting about these that make for an interesting tale of three place.  The lies coming out of these places run the usual full spectrum of what is covered in this blog, and each represents a classic case of throwing every possible claim against the wall to see what sticks.  When the lying is an ex post rationalization rather than actual reasoning, those uttering the lies tend to be quite promiscuous.  Thus, today’s entry does not delve into the specific lies, but on the stories of how they happened.  The tales start out quite differently.

Minnesota is a small state that in many ways is pro-freedom.  But it is also the most Canadian part of America, meaning that it shares Canada’s unfortunate problem of having a relatively efficient bureaucracy and a communitarian-tending population that puts up with that.  It is also insular in a million little ways, thus not liking things that “ain’t from ’round here”.  When most people think of aggressive “public health” measures by US states, they tend to think of Massachusetts and California, but this stereotype overlooks the fact that Minnesota is similar in attitude, but often is much “better” at implementation.  So, like Canada, Minnesota moved to hurt the market for e-cigarettes long before any pro-THR opposition organized.  Specifically, Minnesota imposed a huge tax on e-cigarette products coming into the state (which due to its specifics creates some interesting distortions in the market that tend to favor mods over disposables, but that is beyond the present scope).  More recently, one Minnesota city after another has pursued usage restrictions on e-cigarettes.  This resulted in a deluge of lies by the anti-THR activists to try to trick lawmakers who had not (unlike the activists) already made up their minds before seeking information.

Kelvin Choi is just a bit player, but happens to be the only Minnesotan noted in the blog by name this year (though some other Minnesotans contributed to the upcoming first and second place awards).  Choi seems to be actively trying to set himself up as an Ellen Hahn or Stanton Glantz-like figure — doing pretend science with preordained conclusions for purposes of becoming an activist spokesman — though it seems unlikely he will succeed at this because he lacks the Barnum-like showmanship the other two have.  But though he will probably remain just a minor annoyance, his institution, the University of Minnesota, is among the most anti-THR organizations historically, playing a substantial role in anti-THR in the pre-ecig era.  His activism suggests it might regain some of that role.  That this university includes anti-THR activists seems to be coincidental with the state’s tendencies, but it does make this inward-looking state much more likely to be anti-THR.

New York City politicians and activists (is there even a difference there?) deployed the full armada of anti-THR lies in their move to treat e-cigarettes as if they were cigarettes in terms of onerous place restrictions.  Once again, the policy seemed to have little to do with the facts.  Indeed, given how lopsided and inevitable the vote was, there was not really even a reason to lie to win votes.  Instead, it is more a case of the local extremist activists (Bloomberg, et al.) creating policy as an effort to promote the lies.  In almost diametric contrast with Minnesota, New York is the meeting place of the world and thus has a lot of influence.  It was not local insularity as with Minnesota or Canada; it was local politicians trying to affect the policies of the entire world.  Still, the lies that came out of each (some of which were recognized here yesterday) looked pretty much the same.

The European Union is responsible for the worst anti-THR regulation in the world, the ban on snus (outside of Sweden) which has kept Sweden’s great THR success from spreading to most of its nearest cultural and geographic neighbors (in contrast with its impressive spread into non-EU Norway).  But they largely do not even bother to lie about it anymore — they just keep the policy without trying to justify it.  This says a lot about their motives as they deliberate how to regulate e-cigarettes (if what they are doing could be called deliberation).

Whatever the European Union ends up doing with e-cigarette regulation is, of course, huge.  It could still be anything between a de facto ban and minimal intervention and it forcibly affects hundreds of millions of people; thus what is in play is as momentous as anything happening in THR today (the only competing candidate being what the US FDA decides to do with e-cigarettes and its MRTP process).  But the EU does not top the list of liars because there has been remarkably little effort to aggressively lie.  The proposed bad policies are largely not influenced by the anti-THR lies.  Instead, the roots largely trace to simple officiousness.  Unlike the American system where “allowed unless specifically prohibited” is the legal and moral norm, nations that still put the pictures of hereditary monarchs on their money have found it all too easy to create an institution that defaults to “banned unless specifically permitted by the royal court”.

Interestingly, one corner of America that does use a banned-by-default rule is the FDA.  And what the EU started with (though it now appears to be off the table) is very similar to what FDA tried to do in 2009, which is to effectively ban the products as unapproved drug delivery devices.  In both cases, this seemed to have little to do with intentional policy making (and thus had nothing to do with the lies) and everything to do with just blindly following onerous rules according to the worst stereotypes of government bureaucrats.  In fairness, it is not entirely clear that the rule-makers should be included with the liars in this case, since it is usually the UK government sock-puppets that dominate the anglophone anti-THR lying related to the EU process.  But the lies are, again, following the policy.

In some sense, these top liars of the year blur the lines between speech and action.  In this case, the policy making — by communicating the message that these bad policies have some legitimate justification — is in itself the lie.

Kelvin Choi is remarkably clueless (and a liar) – part 2/2

Yesterday I started dissecting the simplistic and false anti-e-cigarette claims being made by University of Minnesota researcher, and Ellen Hahn wannabe, Kelvin Choi.  This post picks up where that one left off.  To recount, Choi recently released a paper that contains some possibly useful historical data from a survey of knowledge and attitude about e-cigarettes.  But not content to do real science, he proceeded to tack on anti-e-cigarette lies and a conclusion that does not in any way follow from the research.  He then published an interview in which he bungles even the description of e-cigarettes and presents his reasons for worrying about the health effects, none of which actually involve any claim about any health effects.

I will note that the interview I am dissecting did not appear in some free weekly local paper or a radio news report.  It was published by the American Public Health Association (which runs the “journal” where Choi’s paper appeared), and was clearly crafted as a written document by that organization and Choi.  So we cannot attribute the gaffes to trying to dumb things down for a grade-school audience or misspeaking.

Continuing with examples of the lies that Choi and APHA chose to publish:

To date, e-cigarette marketing is not regulated.

Presumably he means in the United States (his apparent failure to recognize that regulations vary across jurisdictions is so minor among his errors that I only mention it because I need to clarify before continuing), in which case he is badly wrong.  Not only is e-cigarette marketing regulated by all basic federal and state rules about truth-in-advertising and such, but it is also severely restricted in terms of health claims.  Merchants cannot offer their customers any comparative risk or smoking cessation information, such as the obvious truths that switching to e-cigarettes is a good way to quit smoking for many people, or the health risk from e-cigarettes is trivial compared to that from smoking.  If this is Choi’s view of anarchy, I would hate to see what he considers to be regulation.

Advertisements for e-cigarettes appear on TV, magazines, the Internet and even in social media. Cigarette advertising has been known to have a strong influence on the perceptions and the use of cigarettes.

Ah, that explains it.  I believe he is mixing up the words “regulated” and “banned”, a common mistake when a native ANTZ speaker tries to communicate in English.

Therefore, it is similarly possible that e-cigarette advertising is one of the sources of influence on young adults’ views about e-cigarettes.

It is worth recalling that this interview was to tout a paper that reports results from a 2010-11 survey.  There was not exactly a lot of advertising of e-cigarettes back then.  This is the standard “public health” bait-and-switch:  do one simple and minor bit of research on a topic, with no policy analysis and no apparent understanding of the big picture, and then claim to be an authority on what policies should be implemented.

It appears that his complaint is that advertising — you know, that “unregulated” advertising which is prohibited from truthfully informing people about the smoking-cessation benefits or comparatively low risk of e-cigarettes — is contributing to people’s knowledge that e-cigarettes have low risk and are good for quitting smoking.  (Note that “knowledge” is the English word; to trANTZlate that into Choi’s ANTZ-speak, I believe their word for “knowledge” is “misinformation” when used in a context that means “knowledge that the ANTZ want to prevent people from learning”.)

I am sure the marketers will be glad to know that they are successfully communicating information that they are not allowed to communicate.  I suspect that during his continuing research on this topic, Choi will eventually learn about the restrictions on the advertising and then realize, like Stanton Glantz, that he needs to crusade for broader censorship of accurate information.

He concludes this thought with:

The challenge is whether we should swiftly regulate e-cigarette advertising before the issue gets out of hand.

Even trANTZlating “regulate” into “ban”, it is difficult to make any sense of this.  What issue?  What constitutes “out of hand”?  I am not even sure this qualifies as lying hype because although it tries to be hype, it is not at all clear what is being claimed.  So, moving on…

The second challenge lies in developing a better understanding of the effective communication channels to reach specific populations and how to best use these channels. For example, we know that a lot of young adults use Facebook, but we do not know how to effectively use Facebook to communicate the correct information about e-cigarettes to young adults. I think we still have a lot to learn in that regard.

Nice discovery about that Facebook thing.  Maybe he will write a paper about it before Facebook ceases being used by a lot of young adults — though I would not recommend holding your breath for that given that his claim to fame is his new paper about survey data from two years ago (ancient history in this fast-moving area, something he apparently does not understand).  But, of course, we again need the trANTZlator here to point out that when he suggests exploring ways to “communicate the correct information”, he really means to “get people to believe his lies”.

Because, after all, if he really wanted to use Facebook to communicate correct information, all he would need to do is point people to pages like CASAA, the We Are CASAA members page, ECCA UK, Vapers Network, the Tobacco Harm Reduction page created by my research group (which I believe is about as old as Facebook, though most of the traffic has shifted to those others over the last few years), or any of several other very active pages with a plethora of truth and where incorrect information is seldom posted without being corrected by someone.  His “we” may well be as clueless as he claims, but fortunately we are way ahead of them.

I wonder if this self-appointed e-cigarette “expert” has ever even seen those Facebook pages and our websites.  Probably not, or he would not have bungled so many simple points.  Still, maybe he is one of the rare ANTZ who actually reads outside of their echo chamber, and he will read this post and follow those links.  I look forward to seeing his comments there trying to provide us with “correct information”.  If you are reading this, Dr. Choi, please consider yourself encouraged to jump into the conversation — unlike your fellow ANTZ, we do not censor contributions from people who disagree with us.  Oh, but be warned, also unlike life inside your ANTZ echo chamber, when someone is lying, we call them on it.

Kelvin Choi is a liar

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.