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Contenders Vie in E-cig Bout

Observers of the looming bout over the future of electronic cigarettes have singled out a couple of leading contenders in the face-off. Heading the list of the top ten favorites are two Mediterranean powerhouses, Italy's Riccardo Polosa and Greek Konstantinos Farsalinos, the favorite of the vaping community. "Polosa and myself are the top two... worldwide," says Farsalinos, keen to meet his opponents in a match that will be refereed by World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan.

Feisty Farsalinos is right. He's referring to a recent "bibliometric study" out of info source Biomedcentral that places him and his colleague from across the Adriatic in the top two spots among e-cigarette researchers. The home institutions of the dynamic duo are also among the top four in research on vaping. Polosa enters the fray for Universita degli Studi di Catania, while Farsalinos, who competes for a medical imaging research center in Belgium as well, represents a home club in the land of Socrates and Homer, a cardiac center founded by fellow Hellene Aristotle Onassis. Another outfit that's in a dominant position among contenders is the University of California at San Francisco, home club of challenger Stanton Glantz, whose name is not mentioned, but whose blog stands behind much of the verbiage fueling the anti-vaping forces.

We go now to ringside in Chan's hometown of Geneva, Switzerland, site of some preliminary matches, as the professorial "pugilists" ready themselves for the showdown in Moscow next October. Trainers are patting down the "Horrible Hellene's" muscles as he waits in his corner of the ring for the fray to begin.

"If you're expressing your opinion... in public," he says, cracking the knuckles on his powerful fists, "you should know what you're talking about." Refusing to name names, such as, for instance, that of his California archrival, he leaves few doubts about his meaning. Complaining that scientific results have been "exaggerated", he says "there are professors of medicine in the United States whose statements on this make them look ridiculous."

Fans are enthusiastic about Konstantinos. "Brilliant!" "Excellent!" and "Πολυ ενδιαφερον και επικαιρο" ('very interesting and timely' – Google Translate) are a few of the comments on the Facebook page of the scientist vapers see as their champion.

Comments from the "Press Box" are positive too: "This bibiliometric study is a testament to the progress in the worldwide EC research over the last few years," say the editors of Biomedcentral, who made the research rankings public.

Fight fans will no doubt be rewarded with a stirring spectacle as the contenders face off in Moscow next October, when the world conference on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will be sponsored by Chan's organization. The preliminary bouts have involved sparring by post, as the opponents have sent competing letters to Chan about policy concerning electronic cigarettes. The WHO has resisted the idea that they can be useful in harm reduction for smokers wishing to quit. "The challenge is to find an appropriate framework for realizing the significant public health opportunities this offers while managing residual risks.... We are concerned about what appears to be an attempt to influence policy through misrepresentation of evidence," comments the countryman of Plato and Aristotle, speaking of the "signatories to the Glantz letter", and offering to "work together in good faith.... It is imperative that trusted scientists discharge their duty with care and make every attempt to be objective when presenting and interpreting evidence and recommending policies. Policy-makers need to be discerning users and critics of scientific reasoning, whether advanced by scientists, activists or interest groups."

"You have to be a little bit crazy," says the favorite of the vaping community about his work on e-cigarettes and harm reduction, "and you have to really love research."

Vapers will be betting on the feisty Farsalinos in the coming bout over the future of harm reduction.