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Philip Morris International used the e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak to market IQOS heated tobacco
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  • Published on:
    Our primary assertion is not impacted by the limitations in our statistical analyses
    • John W Ayers, Scientist UCSD
    • Other Contributors:
      • Eric C Leas, Scientist
      • ShuHong Zhu, Scientist
      • Mark Dredze, Scientist
      • Joanna Cohen, Scientist

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    We thank Mr. Clive Bates (1) and Dr. Moira Gilchrist (2) for their reconsideration of our work (3) and previous response where we corrected some errors (4). We also reiterate that all data informing our Industry Watch are publicly available at Tobacco Watcher (https://tobaccowatcher.globaltobaccocontrol.org/) for anyone to analyze. As with any analyses of observational data, there are limitations and we do not disagree with some of the limitations that Gilchrist and Bates point out in our analyses (as we addressed nearly all of these in our previous response (4)). However, we remain unchanged in our conclusion that, as the title of our initial article stated, “Philip Morris International used the e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak to market IQOS heated tobacco” (3).

    While statistical analysis indicated a correlation between (a) PMI’s public statements regarding EVALI and their IQOS brand of heated tobacco posted to their corporate “media center” (5) and (b) trends in news coverage of EVALI and IQOS, our primary assertion is that PMI used EVALI to market IQOS. The necessary and sufficient analysis to substantiate this assertion is reporting what PMI publicly claimed, which we did by analyzing the statement made by PMI which promoted IQOS through mentioning, contrasting or describing it along with EVALI and/or vaping.

    The full text...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    Dr. Ayers owns equity positions in Health Watcher and Good Analytics. Mr. Chu reports no conflicts. Dr. Leas has received consulting fees from Health Watcher and Good Analytics. Dr. Dredze holds equity in Good Analytics and has received consulting fees from Bloomberg LP. Dr. Zhu reports no conflicts. Dr. Cohen reports no conflicts. Drs. Ayers, Cohen, and Dredze are the creators of TobaccoWatcher.org, a project of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies.
  • Published on:
    Authors’ Response Reveals Several New and Serious Issues
    • Moira Gilchrist, Vice President Strategic and Scientific Communications Philip Morris International

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    Replication attempts are one of the self-correcting mechanisms of science, and we thank the Authors for their response to our concerns and their attempt to replicate aspects of their study [1]. Regrettably, they have failed to adequately address the central point raised in our letter of 23rd April 2021, namely that the title and conclusions of their original Article are patently invalid and have no basis in fact or evidence [2]. Instead of strengthening their argument in support of the Article’s findings and conclusions, the Authors’ response considerably weakens them. Strikingly, the Authors reveal several new and serious issues and yet maintain that their “principle finding is unchanged”.

    Methodological Problems:

    The Authors acknowledge that they were unable to replicate an important aspect of their original analysis, namely that a Philip Morris International (PMI) News Article [3] published on its website (falsely described as a “press release”) was “republished […] in 14 additional news outlets”. In their response, they note that “Our original assertion that there were 14 duplicate articles is not supported by our replication analysis”. This failure to replicate a key finding—in their own proprietary database, which several of them co-developed—is concerning. The Authors provide no explanation for the irregularity. Notably, on 20th April 2021, we were able to source these 14 articles in Tobacco Watcher since they were clearly mar...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    Full-time employee of Philip Morris International
  • Published on:
    The authors' response to criticisms suggests White Hat Bias

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    The authors’ response published on 14 July 2021 is far from satisfactory and implausibly asserts that “Our original findings and conclusions remain plausible” [1]

    The original study [2] uses a media analysis to make a claim that a statement made by the tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) about an outbreak of lung disease in the US [3] was a marketing ploy for its heated tobacco product, iQOS. At the time, the lung injury outbreak was falsely attributed by many to nicotine vaping. Heated tobacco products are an alternative to nicotine vaping for smokers looking for a low-risk alternative to smoking.

    I will now list some of the problems with this claim.

    1. The research findings do not support the headline claim

    The study title contains a strong and unqualified assertion of cynical opportunism on the part of the company. The new formulation that findings "remain plausible" does not justify the confidence in the assertion made in the title. "Plausible" is a reasonable basis for choosing a hypothesis to investigate, but a far from sufficient basis for drawing an aggressive conclusion. The authors do not seem to dispute the technical or factual accuracy of the statement about iQOS and EVALI made by PMI. Their allegation is about malign motives and, as such, it should be a cause for caution and a high standard of evidence.

    2. No specific articles were provided to substantiate the...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    I have no financial ties to tobacco, nicotine or pharmaceutical companies and I am not representing PMI in this response. I have been an advocate for tobacco harm reduction for many years and I believe that heated tobacco products have an important public health role to play as a much safer alternative to cigarettes.
  • Published on:
    Our original findings and conclusions remain plausible
    • John Ayers, Scientist UCSD
    • Other Contributors:
      • Eric Leas, Scientist
      • ShuHong Zhu, Scientist
      • Mark Dredze, Scientist
      • Joanna Cohen, Scientist

    NOT PEER REVIEWED

    We thank Dr. Moira Gilchrist (1) for her careful attention to our work (2). Gilchrist argues our principal findings were erroneous and any change in news coverage of IQOS and the e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak were confounded by other Philip Morris International (PMI) media materials and not those specifically discussing EVALI and IQOS (3) which we attributed our findings to. However, a deeper inspection of this argument suggests our original findings and conclusions remain plausible.

    Tobacco Watcher is a dynamic resource with continuous data collection and processing. Thus, the results of analyses on the platform can vary over time. On June 10, 2021 we replicated our analysis. After correcting an error that the PMI’s materials on EVALI and IQOS (3) was initially published on 24 September 2021 (not 25 September) the principal finding is unchanged. News coverage mentioning both “IQOS” and EVALI (i.e., including the terms ‘vaping’ and ‘illness’) reached an all-time high immediately after PMI published materials about EVALI and IQOS on their website. Thirty days prior to PMI posting this material (August 25th through September 23rd) 2.0 news stories per day matched our search compared to 12.8 for the 30 days after their publication (September 24th through October 23rd), with 384 news reports matching our keyword search for the latter period. Our original assertion that there were 14 duplicate articl...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Review of this study suggests its findings are based on a major confounding error

    NOT PEER REVIEWED

    A review of this study has been published by the target of its criticism, the tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI), via the post-publication review server Qeios [1]

    The main finding of this study, and the allegation raised in its title, is that PMI cynically used an outbreak of lung injuries in the United States (initially but incorrectly attributed to nicotine vaping) to promote its heated tobacco product, iQOS. Heated tobacco products are one alternative to vaping for those looking for a safer alternative to smoking. On 24th September 2019, PMI published an information notice about its products in response to the lung injury outbreak. The authors assert that PMI was trying to gain commercial publicity from a health crisis: a serious allegation. But the allegation appears to be based on a major error by the authors.

    The study used a "fully automated media analysis engine" to count stories that mention iQOS around that time, showing that there were considerably more than usual. On this basis, the authors concluded that PMI's unethical promotional gambit had worked. However, the day after PMI allegedly disreputably sought publicity for iQOS, the company also issued a press release disclosing that merger negotiations with the American tobacco company, Altria, had ceased. PMI and Altria have a joint marketing agreement for iQOS in the United States. The end of merger talks would be big news in the business pre...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    I have no financial ties to tobacco, nicotine or pharmaceutical companies and I am not representing PMI in this response. I have been an advocate for tobacco harm reduction for many years and I believe that heated tobacco products have an important public health role to play as a much safer alternative to cigarettes.
  • Published on:
    Study alleging Philip Morris International used the EVALI outbreak to market IQOS requires substantial methodological revision and further peer review, or retraction
    • Moira Gilchrist, Vice President Strategic and Scientific Communications Philip Morris International

    NOT PEER REVIEWED

    A brief review of this ‘Industry Watch’ article alleging heated tobacco product advertising through an earned media approach highlights significant methodological errors that are serious enough to invalidate the article’s conclusions, including its title. The authors allege that Philip Morris International (PMI) used the e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak to promote IQOS in September 2019 and the weeks that followed. Using the authors’ own tool (TobaccoWatcher.org), we replicated their search strategy and revealed several fundamental and concerning errors in the authors’ analysis.

    They report a rise in news stories mentioning IQOS on and after 25th September 2019, and falsely attribute this rise to an article published on our website on 24th September 2019, which they also falsely describe as a “press release”, despite it never being published through a press release distribution service. Our analysis shows that the authors failed to consider several confounding and unrelated events that caused the rise in news coverage of both IQOS and EVALI during the time period in question and which can be found by replicating the authors’ search strategy in TobaccoWatcher.org.

    For example, on 25th September 2019, Philip Morris International (PMI) issued a single press release via Business Wire (1) entitled “Philip Morris International Inc. and Altria Group, Inc. End Merger Discussions” (PMI/Altria Annou...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    Full-time employee of Philip Morris International
  • Published on:
    What did you expect?

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    If PMI attempted to profit from the “EVALI” scaremongering they could only do so because of the blatantly dishonest reporting of that issue by federal authorities, activist academics, tobacco control organisations and the media who quote them with question. It was obvious as early as August 2019 that the lung injuries were caused by black market THC cartridges cut with vitamin E acetate and not nicotine containing e-cigarettes and the CDC eventually came to the same conclusion. Yet activists in positions of authority continue to link the injuries with nicotine vaping, thus providing a fertile ground of misinformation in which such marketing campaigns can flourish.

    Conflict of Interest:
    New Nicotine Alliance UK