516 e-Letters

  • Methods question / comment on the discussion

    ¶ I enjoyed reading this paper. I appreciate the author's use of difference-in-difference (DD) methodology. There were some things I found unclear that I would like to ask the authors to comment on.

    ¶ First, could the authors provide greater clarity on the model for column 1 of Table 1? Is the dependent variable here a yes/no for current cigarette use? The authors write, "Adolescents reported lifetime and prior month use of cigarettes, which we combined into a count variable of days smoked in the past month (0–30)." How does lifetime cigarette use help the authors to code the current number of cigarette days? The authors later state that they show that "increasing implementation of flavoured tobacco product restrictions was associated not with a reduction in the likelihood of cigarette use, but with a decrease in the level of cigarette use among users." Do the authors mean lifetime cigarette use here, or current cigarette use? The authors estimate this equation with an "inflation model," which I am not aware of. Could the authors provide more information on this modelling technique? This is not discussed in the "Analysis" section.

    ¶ Second, I felt like this statement is too strong. "Our findings suggest that[...] municipalities should enact stricter tobacco-control policies when not pre-empted by state law." Municipalities need to weigh many factors in making these decisions, including the effects of popu...

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  • Omission of reporting characterizing flavour bans

    This article does not distinguish between characterizing flavour (menthol) bans that were implemented in Canadian provinces between 2015 and 2017 and the implementation of a national ban on menthol additives in Canada in October 2017. Although unreported, the analysis was performed exclusively on provincial characterizing flavour bans. This significant distinction should be reported to ensure that researchers and policy makers are aware of the potential impact of a characterizing flavour ban and to ensure that this policy measure is not dismissed or discounted.

  • Authors’ response to L Hagen

    In his comment, Les Hagen brings up an important distinction between two types of restrictions on menthol: a menthol additive ban, and a menthol characterizing flavour ban. Canada's menthol ban across the provinces did indeed involve both types. Between May 2015 and July 2017, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador implemented characterizing flavour bans, whereas New Brunswick implemented a menthol additive ban [1]. When the Federal Government implemented a menthol additive ban in October 2017 [2] , it applied only to the remaining provinces—British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba—as well as Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Thus, the "menthol cigarette ban" in Canada is a mixture of the two types.

    Our article [3] evaluated the impact of menthol bans implemented between the 2016 and 2018 waves of the Canadian arm of the ITC Four Country Smoking and Vaping Surveys. Hagen incorrectly stated that "the analysis was performed exclusively on provincial characterizing flavour bans." In fact, the provinces evaluated in our study included both those that implemented characterizing flavour bans (Quebec, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland & Labrador) and those that implemented the Federal menthol additive ban (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba).

    In our original study, we did not test for differences between the two kinds of bans, beca...

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  • Hagen's response to the authors


    Thank you for the corrections and for acknowledging the omission. The additional analysis performed by ITC is greatly appreciated and provides further insight into the impact of both interventions. Although unstated, Canada’s regional characterizing flavour bans contributed significantly to the development of a national menthol additive ban as chronicled by the U.S. Tobacco Control Legal Consortium[1] . I look forward to reading the full analysis when published.

    1. Kerry Cork, Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, Leading from Up North: How Canada Is Solving the Menthol Tobacco Problem (2017). https://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/sites/default/files/resources/tclc...

  • False allegations, unsubstantiated claims

    We object to the framing of Association of Vapers India (AVI), erroneously referred to as ‘Vape India’ in the paper, as a tobacco industry front group, without providing any basis for the claim except our membership of International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO).

    AVI was organised in August 2016, when consumers of low-risk alternatives came together to arrest the tide of state bans in India, which were being lobbied for by the Bloomberg Philanthropies network the authors belong to.[1] Though one of our directors is the current president of INNCO’s governing board, elected through a member vote in the 2020 General Assembly, he is serving in unpaid, honorary capacity.

    AVI has not received funding from INNCO, nor from the Foundation for Smoke-free World (FSFW), and neither from the tobacco industry. Our work is financed through voluntary contributions, and like INNCO, the affairs are conducted by a governing board comprising unpaid consumer volunteers.

    It is scurrilous to cast AVI as a tobacco industry group or anything other than a consumer-led movement that is seeking access to harm reduction avenues for India’s nearly 270 million tobacco users, among whom cancers are rising[2] even as most have meagre means to deal with the health consequences, which makes harm prevention a vital mitigation strategy. We are product agnostic and advocate access to lower-risk alternatives for both smokers and smokeless tobacco...

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  • INNCO rebuts allegations of industry influence

    We appreciate the authors’ concern about industry “astroturfing.” We believe astroturf activities undermine the genuine consumer movement that INNCO and its members represent. But the conclusions that the authors draw from their research are attenuated and inaccurate. In particular, we object strenuously to the authors’ conclusion that because INNCO has received funding from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (the Foundation), we are a tobacco front group.

    INNCO was formed in 2016, a year before the Foundation was established. All of INNCO’s members are autonomous, independent consumer organisations, and with rare exception are run by volunteers on a shoe-string budget. These organisations joined forces to create INNCO, and they nominate and elect INNCO’s Governing Board members, who serve without compensation.

    INNCO only accepts funding from sources where our independence as an organisation run by and for consumers is assured. INNCO operated for more than two years with only volunteer efforts and no funding. (Funding from the Foundation was received in December of 2018, which is after the period this paper covers.)

    As the authors note, INNCO was formed in large part to ensure the consumer voice is heard on international platforms. However, we question the authors’ intent in casting our desire to engage as legitimate stakeholders as nefarious.

    While the authors have cited numerous references on the motivations of t...

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  • Flawed understanding of nicotine consumer advocacy

    It’s surprising finding oneself involuntarily part of a research study. Given no chance to contribute, perhaps I can offer privileged insight into the processes the authors seek to describe.

    Analysis of tweets around the COP8 meeting show that nicotine consumer advocates were the most active, followed by public health advocates and the tobacco industry. My company – Knowledge Action Change – also tweeted, at the Geneva launch of our tobacco harm reduction report. [1] Tweeting by tobacco harm reduction advocates out-shadowed “official” FCTC messaging (and if the authors had searched #FCTCCOP8 and #COP8 as well as #COP8FCTC, they would have uncovered more).

    The article asserts that tobacco industry money is behind this activity. But it is beyond this study’s narrow methodological reach to illuminate why nicotine consumer advocates tweet. My discussions with nicotine consumer advocates – the majority of whom are volunteers - demonstrate passionate interest in the policymaking that influences their lives. Having found safer alternatives to smoking, they fear that inappropriate regulation including bans will see their options disappear. They are frustrated that they are ignored by tobacco control policymakers, regulators and researchers. Barred from COP8 along with the public and press, consumer organisations are also barred from the NGO coalition Framework Convention Alliance. No other field of health policy excludes the affected. Consu...

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  • The Scientific Case for Civility

    Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in a free society. There is no justification to either interfere with the right of stakeholders to participate in the public debate regarding tobacco harm reduction policy, or to malign those that exercise that right. Given that the outcome of these policy discussions will affect the lives of more than one billion people on the planet who smoke, everyone must be free to advance arguments for and against any policy, and each argument must be scrutinized and evaluated on its evidence base and merits. Unfortunately, the recent paper in Tobacco Control—Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control—missed the opportunity to do this.
    Instead of engaging in a discussion on the key issues and arguments put forth in the public discussion around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP8), the authors employ diversionary ad hominem tactics. They mischaracterize Philip Morris International’s (PMI’s) legitimate participation in the public debate on the role that products with the potential to reduce the risk of harm compared to smoking can play in global public health policy. Using phrases like ‘tobacco industry actors’ and ‘front groups’ the authors falsely imply that any person or organization who publicly supports tobacco harm reduction are paid to do so by the tobacco industry, and specifically PMI....

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  • It should be welcomed that consumers are engaging with decisions which affect them

    It is disappointing to see the BMJ publishing a research paper which smears consumer advocates for tobacco harm reduction by attempting to link consumer activity on social media with the tobacco industry. One can only conclude that the goal was to devalue the opinions of former smokers who have found safer nicotine products to have been beneficial to their lives.
    I write as chair of the UK New Nicotine Alliance and as it is highly likely that tweets from our supporters have been included in this research, so we welcome the right to reply to the article.
    The attempt to paint consumers as part of some mythical tobacco industry plot is offensive to individuals and organisations promoting tobacco harm reduction. We and our supporters, along with many other vapers, are systematically excluded from the FCTC conferences and yet have a strong stake in the outcomes of the meeting. Social media is one of the few opportunities we have to get our views across. Consumers of safer nicotine products have been acutely aware of an increasing warfare against the products which have helped them to stop smoking.
    In 2018, there were clear threats being expressed by the WHO FCTC in advance of COP8 towards products that vaping consumers value highly for helping them to quit smoking. Many vapers travelled to Geneva in 2018 at their own expense, but as ‘members of the public’ were excluded from the meeting.
    The article by Robertson et al was funded b...

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  • Unsubstantiated Claims


    When doing scientific research, following the scientific method, you have a hypothesis (question) that you are going to investigate - in this case: Does xxx consumer organisation have any direct ties to tobacco companies that influence their advocacy?

    After you have chosen your method, you then gather your evidence, make an objective analysis and state your findings and make a conclusion.

    Your method SHOULD be thorough and your research should be objective in order to maintain the integrity of your research (and yourself). The evidence will either prove/disprove your original hypothesis.

    Instead, the authors have chosen to not only demonise the participation of consumers in the narrative of their own health, one has lobbied false claims about tobacco industry connections that do not exist.

    It is very concerning that the authors find it necessary to disenfranchise the very people who are fighting for their right to make informed choices about their health. It defies logic, and the principles of fairness and decency.

    It perhaps would have been more helpful to all concerned if the authors had done due diligence beyond looking at a website that does not have verified information, to cast aspersions on consumer advocacy organisations.

    It definitely would be more productive to welcome the voices of the people for whom felt impassioned enough to get involved in consumer advocacy to help smokers not only hav...

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