60 e-Letters

published between 2019 and 2022

  • 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...

    Show More
  • 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...

    Show More
  • 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....

    Show More
  • 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...

    Show More
  • 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...

    Show More
  • 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...

    Show More
  • Clarification of claims made about e-cigarettes

    Recent work from Ilies et al. (1) is very informative toward understanding the degree to which heated tobacco products might confer less health risk than combusted cigarettes. This publication extends well beyond the existing HTP emissions evidence base, much of which was not conducted by independent groups. The authors should be commended for leveraging strong methodology, and for their comprehensive evaluation of toxicants generated by these products.

    While the methodology and results of this publication appear sound, there are a number of inaccurate claims that warrant criticism in the second paragraph of the Introduction section:

    • The second paragraph discusses nicotine vaping products (e-cigarettes), however citation #2 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Use of cigarettes and other tobacco products among students aged 13-15 years--worldwide, 1999-2005. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2006;55:553) utilize data from 1999 through 2005, which mostly spans a time frame prior to the invention of the first e-cigarette in 2004 (2), and certainly spans a timeframe prior to their widespread marketing in the United States. The citation follows the sentence “However, the death toll provoked by their [e-cigarettes] consumption has increased significantly, reaching 650,000 annually, and it is likely to rise over the coming year…” This citation is clearly inapplicable to the unfounded claim being made about deaths attributable to e-ci...

    Show More
  • Gateway effect from vaping to smoking likely to be small

    The meta-analysis by Khouja et al. confirms the strong association in young people between e-cigarette use and subsequent smoking.[1] The critical issue is whether the relationship is causal. If there is a causal relationship, there are several factors which diminish its impact.

    Firstly, most of the studies used ‘ever smoking’ as the outcome. Ever smoking is a poor marker for smoking-related harm as most smoking by vapers who later smoke is experimental and infrequent and few progress to established smoking (100+ lifetime cigarettes). Shahab et al. found that only 2.7% of youth who tried e-cigarettes first progressed to established smoking. Only established smoking is linked to significant smoking-related death and disease.[2]

    Secondly, the absolute number of non-smokers who progress from vaping to smoking is small as smoking precedes vaping in the vast majority of cases (70-85%).[3] If there is a gateway from vaping to smoking, this only affects a minority of young vapers.

    Thirdly, the authors use Bradford Hill’s dose-response and specificity criteria to assess whether the association between vaping and subsequent smoking is likely to be causal.

    They acknowledge that the dose-response criterion is mostly based on nicotine dependence, indicating that that nicotine dependent vapers are more likely to progress to smoking. However, nicotine dependence in non-smoking vapers is rare, less than 4% in the 2018 National Youth T...

    Show More
  • Declines in Adolescent Use of Cigarettes and Other Substances Consistent With Common Liability Model

    Miech and colleagues demonstrate declines in prevalence of non-medical use of prescription drugs among US high school students and show that these declines can be explained by trends in cigarette smoking.1 These observations are taken as support of the gateway hypothesis in which cigarette smoking increases the likelihood of subsequent other drug use. The authors further argue that these results are inconsistent with a ‘common liability’ model, and that the common liability model predicts that adolescent drug use would have “stayed steady or even increased as adolescents continued to use these drugs regardless of whether they smoked.” In this scenario, adolescents with a predilection toward substance might substitute cigarettes with other drugs as smoking rates decline.

    However, this conceptualization of the common liability model is inconsistent with how such models are typically understood. Models that posit a common liability do not assert that the degree of liability is fixed in the population, such that changes in risk for use of one drug increases risk for other drug use. Instead, common liability can be influenced by environmental factors and environmental changes can coherently impact multiple outcomes, resulting in trends similar to those observed by Miech and colleagues.

    For over 40 years, Problem Behavior Theory has provided a comprehensive theory and empirical approach to common liability. “Problem behaviors” (later termed...

    Show More

    This is a well written original research about the burning issue of tobacco manufacturer lobbying. These manufacturing industries have developed strategies to undercut minimum price laws. By increasing tobacco taxes an effective policy has been designed to decrease tobacco use. In Pakistan currently, 209 million people smoke and about 83 billion cigarettes are smoked per year. As Pakistan has not ratified any anti-smoking policies, there should be great effort made to raise excise duties and taxes on tobacco companies to reduce the demand for cigarettes. In 2017 the local price of cigarettes was about 75 rupees of which half was excise duties [1].
    With this expansion of taxes, there will be responses of reducing tobacco consumption, but the cigarette manufacturing industries developed specific promotions and lobbies to encourage their consumers to purchase lower taxed or lower priced tobacco products. It is the responsibility of health authorities to regulate the prices and promotion of such hazardous products [2]. According to WHO, “MPOWER” was the slogan in 2015, according to which M= monitor tobacco usage, P= Protect people from tobacco smoke, O= offering help to quit tobacco use, W= warning about its hazards, E= enforce to ban its advertisement, R = Raise tobacco taxes [3].
    For smoke free Pakistan and all over the world four key factors should be instruments: Education, legislation, quitting support and financial policies.


    Show More