64 e-Letters

published between 2015 and 2018

  • Unassisted smoking cessation should be studied, not denigrated

    The paper by Filippidis et al [1] provides data re-confirming the well-known fact that most ex-smokers attempt to quit without using any form of assistance, whether pharmaceutical, professional or via e-cigarettes. Moreover, the proportion of ex-smokers trying to quit unaided increased substantially in Europe between 2012-17 (ex-smokers using no assistance increased from 73.9% to 80.7%), a period where e-cigarette use accelerated in some nations.

    Regrettably however, this study does not permit any comparison of success rates by method, as no data are reported on which method of cessation (assisted v unassisted) was used by ex-smokers on their last, final (and so successful) quit attempt.

    The authors report that those “who successfully quit reported much lower use of cessation assistance compared with smokers who had tried to quit without success” and suggest that this might reflect indication bias, whereby those who find it harder to quit self-select to use assistance, leaving the low hanging fruit of non- or less addicted smokers to fall off the smoking tree using their own determination.

    While this will be true for some, there are many former heavy smokers who quit without assistance. This argument also borrows assumptions from the discredited hardening hypothesis [2], which holds, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that as smoking prevalence falls the concentration of hardened, more deeply addicted smokers increase...

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  • Preventing tobacco Industry interference needs to be included in vaccine

    There is also very clear evidence that tobacco industry interference is either delaying or dumbing down implementation of each of the MPOWER policies particularly in LMICs. The TC vaccine is a good concept but the framework needs to include monitoring, exposing and countering industry tactics.

  • Response to Bashash et al.

    I am grateful to Bashash et al. for raising some important methodological and policy-related issues. Responding to their specific points:

    (1) Very high formaldehyde concentrations may arise in aerosols when atomisers generate excessive heat[1]. Under these circumstances recommended safety limits for formaldehyde may indeed be exceeded and this compound contributes most to the cancer potency summation.

    (2) Goodson et al. [2] provide a framework for assessing whether low dose compounds that are not necessarily individual carcinogens may become involved in carcinogenesis when acting in concert. Although discussed under "Strengths and limitations" synergystic phenomena were not accommodated in the cancer potency model as it is not yet possible to predict the mechanism and magnitude of such interactions in tobacco or e-cigarette aerosols. Under the Goodson et al. model adverse effects reflect adventitious synergystic combinations. These may be statistically more likely in tobacco smoke where the number of different compounds greatly exceeds those of simpler aerosols, however this effect is expected to be minor compared with the exceptionally high carcinogenic potencies of some well-established carcinogens in tobacco smoke.

    (3) Lifetime cancer risk is linearly dependent on the daily volume of vapour inhaled (equation 7) and the effect on risk of increased consumption after switching to heat not burn (HnB) products is directly related to the chang...

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  • A critique of Jawad et al, Price elasticity of demand of non-cigarette tobacco products: a systematic review and meta-analysis

    NOT PEER REVIEWED The Jawad et al systematic review and meta-analysis examining price effects for non-cigarette tobacco and nicotine products appears methodologically sound and was a registered analysis. It provides information that could be used productively by advocates and policymakers seeking to reduce harm. The cross-elasticities reported in this paper can be used to the advantage of public health by increasing the impact of policies that seek to drive down smoking.

    However, this work does not take into account the fact that not all tobacco and nicotine products cause the same level of health harms as combustible cigarettes. The paper examines own- and cross-price elasticity across a wide array of products – from combustible tobacco products such as kreteks and little cigars to nicotine-only products such as e-cigarettes and nicotine patches – and then discusses consumption patterns in terms of an undifferentiated aggregate of nicotine use. Jawad and colleagues do not consider the health implications of policies to move nicotine users from more-harmful to less-harmful means of administration (see, for example, Chaloupka, Warner and Sweanor, 2015, recommending differential taxation according to differential risk).

    From a public health perspective, any analysis of nicotine-use patterns should consider differential harm levels. A focus on nicotine use as the sole outcome variable can be seriously misleading and detrimental to the goal of reducing smoking....

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  • Evolution, Resurrection, or Zombie Apocalypse?

    We thank Dr. Jarvis for his appreciation of our historical scholarship but disagree that our conclusion, “the promotion of tobacco harm reduction may serve the interests of tobacco companies more effectively than the public,” is an attack.

    Our paper is about how policy affects ideas and vice versa. The ideas guiding the product modification program led to bad outcomes. That these ideas have been reanimated merits critical assessment. Voluntary agreements led to industry influence over the ISCSH’s recommendations, which in turn undermined public health. We point out that some of the same premises that led the ISCSH astray are popular again. Jarvis claims that current UK harm reduction policy has nothing to do with the product modification program, and everything to do with the influence of the late Michael Russell. Russell’s impressive scholarship – and oft-quoted statement, “people smoke for the nicotine, but die from the tar” – is indeed hugely influential among proponents of tobacco harm reduction. Jarvis posits that Russell’s work serves as a “paradigm shift” on which the UK’s current embrace of long-term nicotine maintenance and tobacco harm reduction actually rests, and which severs any link between the failures of product modification and widespread fears of a redux today.

    Yet Russell’s work represents more a variation in theme than it does revolution in content. Russell’s policy recommendations operate from the same premises a...

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  • There are still lessons to be learned

    NOT PEER REVIEWED Martin Jarvis is right to describe the Hunter Committee era as “a sorry tale” that by and large is well told by Elias and Ling, but his assertion that “taken as a whole their paper reads more as an attack on current UK policy than as a scholarly contribution to the history of tobacco control” is way over the top, as is his criticism of “the editorial processes and decision-making of Tobacco Control”.

    In a paper that runs to a little over five pages of text, there are very brief references to current policies on the first page, then further brief references towards the end, suggesting that there are lessons to be drawn from the earlier episodes.

    The paper might indeed have expanded further on the industry-friendly record of the Hunter Committee, noting that after his term as Chairman of the Committee ended, Lord Hunter became a consultant for Imperial Tobacco, while a civil servant who worked on smoking and serviced the Hunter Committee went on to work for Gallahers. It might also have included more emphasis on the way tobacco substitutes dominated public discourse on tobacco policy issues during the 1970s (1), although in fairness to the authors they appear to have been misled by the re-writing of history evident in some of the material they cite, particularly from industry actors.

    But this would simply have added more weight to the conclusion that during the 1970s discussion, debate and massive promotion of tobacco substitutes by t...

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  • Did mammals evolve from dinosaurs? Current UK harm reduction policy did not come from the product modification fiasco of the 1970s

    Elias & Ling throw useful light on the slow-motion disaster that was the series of voluntary agreements begun in the 1970s between government and the tobacco industry in the UK, overseen by the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health (ISCSH). These had as their aim to address the issue of tobacco product modification to reduce the health risks of smoking. Industry produced new smoking materials with the aim of reducing the biological activity of the tar fraction of smoke from cigarettes, and agreed to a programme of gradual tar yield reduction across the years. The novel products failed because consumers rejected them (there were too few users even to recruit for trials to examine their potential benefits), and the reductions in machine-smoked tar yields were achieved largely through increasing filter ventilation. The material cited shows that the low tar programme fiasco was characterized by undue influence from tobacco industry and a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of smoking behaviour on the part of the scientific experts charged by government with supervision of the programme.
    This is a sorry tale from the early days of tobacco control, and Elias & Ling tell it well. So far so good. But in framing and interpreting their material they go well beyond the data they cite, and draw quite unwarranted conclusions about what they see as the deficiencies of the current UK harm reduction policy. Indeed, tak...

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  • Evidence-based tobacco harm reduction

    NOT PEER REVIEWED Elias and Ling conclude that ‘Regulatory bodies should consider toxin exposure, and new products’ actual use, abuse potential and population health effects before endorsing them as safer’. We agree, and that is exactly what Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians have done [1-4].

    1. Britton, J. and Bogdanovica, I. Electronic cigarettes. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    2. Bauld, L., Angus, K., and de Andrade, M. E-cigarette uptake and marketing. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    3. McNeill, A., Brose, L., Calder, R., Hitchman, S.C., McRobbie, H., and Hajek, P. E-cigarettes: an evidence update. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    4. Tobacco Adviso...

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  • Vapourised nicotine products: Lower concentration does not mean safe

    NOT PEER REVIEWED The results provided by Stephens [1] may suggest to readers that since the concentrations of carcinogens are lower in vapourised nicotine products (VNPs), the risks of cancer are smaller compared to conventional cigarettes. The article uses the linear non-threshold model for risk assessment (a uniform cancer risk per unit dose from higher to lower doses), which is also used by most regulatory agencies. This model is considered to have a high degree of uncertainty; nevertheless, it implies that any dose of carcinogens increases the risk of cancer. Accordingly, the primary conclusion of Stephens and other’s[2] findings of the presence of carcinogens, particularly in heat-not-burn cigarettes (HNB) is that HNB poses a significant risk of cancer. In addition:
    1) The article highlights a summation approach of overall cancer risk for each product, yet the individual concentrations of human carcinogens (for example, formaldehyde [3]) are still at risk level.
    2) The assessment of carcinogenesis of low-level exposure to a mixture of chemicals is challenging [4]. Stephens’s summation model assumes that the effect of chemicals is independent. Even if we assume that for an individual chemical a lower concentration lowers carcinogenicity, we cannot rule out the potential effects of interactions among chemicals.
    3) The analysis relies on holding consumption constant. However, manufacturer studies have suggested that consumption increases after a swi...

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  • Founder

    NOT PEER REVIEWED An often overlooked limitation in smoking-related studies based on surveys conducted by health institutions is the pressure on respondents to provide "the right answer." Especially in this area, where this population has been subjected to high intensity tobacco control policies and messages, sample representativeness cannot be established with certainty when those asking the questions are the originators and/or pursuers of these policies and messages and, undeniably, describing the effort as "denormalization" and seeking to form a stigma around smoking and smokers.

    Furthering this theory is the strongly implied factor contained in this study's "Limitations" section that the respondents have been plucked from prior tobacco research, thereby affording them even more knowledge about the opinions of the researchers. Those who volunteer for smoking-related studies -- perhaps even receiving incentive payments? -- cannot be dismissed as the type who will lean toward providing expected answers in order to please, are indicative of the type who already agree with the perceived direction of the study, or, as already stated, fear telling the truth to those they know hold a general disapproving attitude toward the subject at hand.

    Right now the sample representativeness is skewed because of this. By how much remains the question. But one should not discount wondering what the responses would be and how different...

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