The latest vaping research to come out of the USA once again focuses on youth uptake of vaping. The research, which has been published in PLoS One sensationally claims that vaping poses more population-level harm than benefit.

The lead author of the study was Professor Samir Soneji, a researcher from The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. He incredibly claimed that e-cigarettes could lead to more than 1.5million years of life being lost. Soneji based his research on particularly dubious previous studies relating to the gateway theory.

Two Public Health experts have had their say on the inaccuracy of this research. Dr Lion Shahab and Professor Peter Hajek have picked the study apart and explain that the findings are based on assumptions.

Dr Lion Shahab Senior Lecturer Epidemiology & Public Health at UCL, said:

“Modelling of outcomes is crucially dependent on the initial assumptions being made. The authors make some very speculative assumptions here, particularly on the ‘gateway’ effect in teenagers – they assume that vaping leads to smoking. The trouble is, all their data on this comes from studies that don’t prove anything of the sort, and ignore the possibility that e-cigarettes could actually be driving kids away from tobacco.

This leads to a biased result which flies in the face of data in the US, where smoking among kids continues to decline – just like in the UK. If this new study were correct, those rates would be going up. The authors’ estimate of ‘life years lost’ is primarily driven by their overestimate of e-cig use contributing to a significant increase in the uptake of smoking in kids.

In my opinion, the authors’ choice of studies used to justify the impact of e-cig use on quitting rates is rather biased. In at least one case they have used a paper whose methodology has previously been heavily criticised.

If you’re going to make assumptions, a much more reasonable approach would be to assume e-cigarettes are at least as effective as things like patches or gum – that is what the very best evidence from proper randomised controlled trials shows. Unfortunately the authors of this study modelled using wrong assumptions – and, unsurprisingly, they’ve ended up with the wrong conclusions.”

Prof Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, said:

“This new ‘finding’ is based on the bizarre assumption that for every one smoker who uses e-cigs to quit, 80 non-smokers will try e-cigs and take up smoking. It flies in the face of available evidence but it is also mathematically impossible. In the UK alone, 1.5 million smokers have quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes. The ‘modelling’ in this paper assumes that we also have 120 million young people who became smokers.

The model only reflects whatever spurious assumptions are put into it. Starting with the opposite assumptions would generate the opposite result. This is no route to a scientific finding.

In reality there is no evidence, from any country, that vaping lures young non-smokers to smoking (let alone in huge numbers). In the USA, the country where the authors live and whose smoking statistics they should know, smoking in young people has been declining at an unprecedented rate.

Vaping is helping smokers quit, and there is no evidence that it lures children to smoking. It may even be deflecting young people who would otherwise smoke away from cigarettes.”