Ethics in science: New study warns against telling smokers of tobacco toxicity

A new study by RTI International warns public health officials to be careful of telling smokers that tobacco cigarettes are far more toxic than vaping or e-cigs.  When social media caught wind of the study, many began questioning the issue of ethics in science.

The study suggests that warning smokers encourages dual use, which the published document implies is bad for public health and could even undermine the smoking cessation process. For millions of vapers, many of which have engaged in dual use as a way to quit or curb their smoking addiction, suggesting that medical professionals keep this sort of toxicity information to themselves seems rather alarming.

The study involved conducting phone surveys of 1164 U.S. adult smokers.  In some cases, the participant was told that cigarette smoke is just as toxic as e-cig vapor.  In other cases, the participant was told that cigarette smoke is 10 times, 100 times, or perhaps even greater in toxicity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 79 percent of those who were told that combustible cigarettes are more toxic also said that they would be far more likely to consider taking up vaping as a way to help kick the habit.  The RTI paper closes with a recommendation that “disclosing amounts of chemicals in cigarette smoke and e-cigarette aerosol could unintentionally encourage dual use.”

UK Public health official calls RTI report ‘ethically questionable’

While the United Kingdom has its own set of regulatory requirements for e-cigs and vaping technology that vary greatly from the FDA deeming regulations of the United States, one public health official across the pond takes issue with the RTI report.  When Professor Jim McManus, Director of Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council, was asked to read the report and offer his opinion via Twitter, he wasn’t bashful in offering his thoughts.

McManus called the RTI report a “poor paper” that offers “nothing useful” and is “ethically questionable, too.”  He also states that “at a time when in drugs policy harm reduction and abstinence co-exist (albeit fighting) this paper would have us go backward.”

The fact that the RTI researchers admittedly lied to many of the 1164 participants by falsely claiming that vaping was just as toxic as smoking is abhorrent in itself.   It is tactics like these that are making the UK increasingly more vocal about its disdain for the scientific methods employed by American public health officials and the resulting, questionable data.

In the weeks before Christmas, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published a rather scathing opinion of e-cigs and vaping, labeling them as a major health threat against American youth.  However, there are reams of scientific research studies both in America and abroad that prove otherwise.

As a result of Murthy’s pronouncements, Professor Kevin Fenton, the UK’s Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, quickly shot back by calling vaping a “great public health opportunity.”  Clearly, the United Kingdom is becoming increasingly frustrated by having to respond to the “ethically questionable” research studies released here in the United States.

Article Credit: Matt Rowland

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