Hypocrisy: Scientific journals refuse to publish research on “the tobacco industry”

“Censorship of science is deeply troubling on many levels,” the ACLU argued in 2007. “At its most basic, it confronts the fundamental premises of the scientific method…For science to advance, knowledge must be without the free exchange of ideas, science as we understand it cannot exist and progress.” The civil liberties group challenged efforts to prevent federal researchers from freely and thoroughly investigating climate change. and AIDS, although the phenomenon – the unwarranted censorship of science – is alive and well 15 years later.

Earlier this year, the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) announced a policy change already implemented by several others peer-reviewed publications: it will no longer accept content from scientists affiliated with the vaping or tobacco industries. The updated publication guidelines were initiated by a February 2022 opinion piece in the journal: The Tobacco Industry’s Renewed Assault on Science: A Call for a Unified Public Health Response. The authors alleged that the industry has used vaping as a way to “infiltrate” tobacco control research and subvert the anti-tobacco efforts of public health experts:

“The tobacco industry is once again infiltrating scientific spaces and posing a direct threat to the vital work of impartial tobacco control scientists. With the popular introduction of electronic cigarettes and other new of nicotine, the tobacco industry has transformed itself into a self-proclaimed corporate concern – and one that will do whatever it can to support its new products while opposing credible scientific findings.

As we will see, this article is top-down nonsense, ideological invective tainted with gross hypocrisy and dubious scientific claims. The bigger problem is that such a blatant defense of censorship sends an ominous message to the public: the scientific establishment will simply shut down any line of research that doesn’t fit the proper political discourse.

Industry money corrupts research?

It is undeniable that the tobacco industry uses underhanded public relations and lobbying tactics. For many years, cigarette manufacturers have done everything possible to deny the health risks of smoking. You may even remember that the CEOs of the seven largest tobacco companies denied the addictive nature of nicotine during a congressional hearing in 1994.

History aside, the essential question for our purposes is: do vaping companies engage in the same misdeeds today? No, and there is a very good reason for that. The FDA requires manufacturers to provide detailed evidence showing that their vaping products are “appropriate for the protection of public health”.

The agency has so far only approved a handful of the submitted proposals. six million product applications, and most e-cigarette and e-liquid manufacturers lack the scientific and financial resources to overcome the FDA’s byzantine regulatory hurdles. The majority of these companies will simply go bankrupt.

The few companies that will survive this regulatory scrutiny are well-known brands like JUUL, which is partially detained by one of the largest tobacco companies in the world. The research that these companies produce to justify the sale of their products must meet the highest standards, because the FDA will accept nothing less. JUUL’s chief regulatory officer made this point in an April 14 letter to AJPH. refused to publish:

“Obviously absent [from the AJPH opinion piece] is recognition of the passage in 2009 of the Family Tobacco Prevention and Control Act (TCA) giving the FDA jurisdiction over tobacco products. The TCA has established the Pre-Market Application for Tobacco Products (PMTA) process requiring manufacturers of new tobacco products to demonstrate by science and evidence that their products are “appropriate for the protection of public health”. At Juul Labs, we have executed an extensive research program designed to provide the FDA with the information it needs to make this decision. [emphasis in original].”

In other words, these companies have a vested interest in conducting rigorous research that the FDA cannot poke holes in. The AJPH article made no effort to address this fact beyond complaining that

“Allowing tobacco industry research in scientific publications and conferences…gives the industry legitimacy and status – giving industry-sponsored research a false equivalence with independent and credible research in Second, industry participation in academic conferences and other scientific arenas provides critical insight into tobacco control evidence and strategy, which industry can then use to counter the science-based policy initiatives Third, legitimizing tobacco industry findings allows them to present their work to federal regulators.

This contradictory position seems to assume what it must prove, namely that industry cannot produce good science. But it also raises tricky questions about the authors’ goals. If you want to monitor the behavior of the vaping industry, shouldn’t you encourage its representatives to present their research to experts who can critique it? Don’t you want federal regulators to review their work? The answers are obvious to anyone interested in transparency.

My colleague, Dr. Chuck Dinerstein, adds that “none of these conferences have secret studies. All the information is readily available in journals that have agreements to publish the proceedings of major conferences.”

About these “credible scientific findings”

What’s most ridiculous about AJPH’s virtue flag is that the “independent” studies alleging that vaping could cause serious health risks are ridiculously bad. I maintain a master list of electronic cigarette junk papers should you wish to investigate. Typically, these are epidemiological studies based on self-reported data, arguably the least reliable methodology that public health researchers can use. Additionally, if the results don’t fit the anti-vaping narrative, the authors choose a different conclusion to amplify in the media.

For example, one such article found that vaping significantly reduced the risk of stroke for smokers who switched to e-cigarettes, from 6.75% to 1.09%. What did the authors title their presentation at the American Heart Association (AHA) annual meeting? E-cigarette users face a 15% higher risk of stroke at a younger age than traditional smokers. AHA shot the presentation of his conference at the last minute.

If anyone publishes shoddy research in this area, it is the tobacco control scientists who accuse others of introducing “dubious findings” into the peer-reviewed literature.

Aren’t you just a tobacco accomplice?

Critics will inevitably claim that I wrote this article because ACSH has received funding from the tobacco industry in the past. This is nonsense, of course. I cover vaping research because I smoked my last pack of Camel Lights ten years ago, just when I bought my first e-cigarette with my doctor’s approval. So I’m much healthier, a fact that I’ve really come to appreciate since becoming a father. So it amazes me that American anti-tobacco groups continue to deny the well-documented benefits of vaping. [1]

But if industry funding corrupts an organization’s message, I’d like to know why AJPH authors, Jodi Briggs and Donna Vallone, are affiliated with the Truth Initiative, an anti-tobacco group that has received $300 million per year for five years (p 26) of the tobacco industry. Truth now has assets of approximately $1 billion. [2]

I do not dismiss the claims of the initiative because of their funding; their advocacy work is bad because it contradicts the evidence. But if Truth wants to castigate the science of the vaping industry while sitting on a giant pile of cigarette maker money, they should explain why they’re exempt from the conflict-of-interest standard that everyone is under. tenuous. Their only response was affirm that “We are *not* funded by Big Tobacco.”

Killing public trust

Before I wrap up, I want everyone to think about how AJPH’s outburst on industry funding sounds to the average person, or better yet, a vaccine skeptic. We now have several major medical journals openly proclaiming that they will not publish any content if it comes from the “bad” researchers. Anyone who opposes vaccination on the grounds that the medical establishment will not tolerate dissent has clear evidence to support their claims, thanks to the anti-tobacco movement.

Academics often lament the public’s refusal to get a COVID shot, put on a mask, or accept evolution. They’ve spent a lot of time and (taxpayer) money building hypotheses as to why so many people reject mainstream science, but the answer is clear to anyone who wants to see it: we can have an open and honest scientific inquiry that produces reliable research, or we can have ideological journals and researchers that the public increasingly ignores. I know which one I prefer.

[1] UK health authorities have approved vaping as a smoking cessation aid. You can even buy e-cigarettes in some hospitals.

[2] See the Truth Initiative’s latest 990 filing with the IRS, Available from GuideStar.