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Critics say WHO e-cigarette report was ‘misleading’

The latest salvo in an ongoing row over the safety of electronic cigarettes has branded a major World Health Organization-commissioned report guilty of misrepresenting and misinterpreting key evidence.

The fight over whether e-cigarettes curb or encourage tobacco use has reached new heights in recent weeks after the WHO released a report calling for tougher regulation of the devices, which vaporise nicotine-laced liquid for inhalation (see the news feature article ‘E-cigarettes: The Lingering Questions’).

These arguments are being splashed across many media sources today following the publication of a new paper in Addiction.

In the latest development a group of leading researchers on the pro-e-cigarette side take aim at a review commissioned by the WHO, and a version of it later published in Circulation, from a team including leading e-cig sceptic Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

In the article published today, Ann McNeill of King’s College London and her co-authors write: “We identify important errors in the description and interpretation of the studies reviewed, and find many of its key conclusions misleading.”

Among the claims from Glantz’s team they dispute are that “marketing is back” on TV as a result of e-cigarettes. “Use of the language ‘marketing is back’ is polemic and has no place in an academic report. Reference to placement near ‘candy’ and ‘medicines’ similarly seems intended to create an emotional response and lacks reference to evidence on what the significance of such placement might be,” says the new paper.

McNeill’s group also takes issue with the statement that it has not been proven that these products actually help people stop smoking. “The statement misrepresents the consistent picture emerging from a variety of studies using different designs, that e-cigarettes can help smokers to stop, even though the effect is not strong,” they write.

Expect the other side to issue a strong rebuttal in short order. As Michael Siegel, a tobacco control researcher at Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts says in the Nature news feature, “These devices have really polarized the tobacco-control community. You now have two completely opposite extremes with almost no common ground between them.”


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