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Looks Like There’s No Gateway in Oklahoma!

A study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research found no "gateway effect" leading young people from electronic cigarettes to the smoking of combustible cigarettes. Professor Theodore Wagener, in the department of General and Community Pediatrics at the Health Sciences Center of the University of Oklahoma, polled 1300 college students, averaging 19 years old, about their vaping and smoking habits. Of the 43 study participants whose first nicotine product was an e-cig, only one had gone on to smoke regular cigarettes, while the other 42 were no longer using any nicotine product.

To be sure, the study was presented as a "conference paper", meaning that an individual researcher was presenting results of his first findings. Given the way the scientific method works, the same study, or a similar one, will be conducted by some of the researcher's colleagues, with the aim of testing its validity further. Either the findings will be "replicated" or they will be overturned. If replicated, then the results of the several studies will be written up as an article and submitted to a scholarly journal. Then other scholars in the same field, usually more established ones, will "referee" the paper to decide whether the journal should publish it or not. It's a lengthy process but an effective way of confirming new findings.

Assuming Professor Wagener hasn't been hustled away somewhere by smoking-ban thugs, he will presumably be continuing his research, and colleagues will be setting up similar studies to confirm or "unconfirm" what he has presented. Here's a hitch: most of the bodies competent to do similar studies have a strong interest in one outcome or another. Certainly the FDA, the CDC, and WHO have shown themselves to be thoroughly biased on the issue. Michael Siegel of the School of Public Health at Boston University notes that Thomas Frieden of the CDC has stated flatly, with no evidence, that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. Not "might be" but are. Organizations like CASAA, ECF, and the like would be seen as biased the other direction, as would public health scientists like Siegel himself, who has been strongly identified as an advocate of a moderate, "harm-reduction" regulatory stance on e-cigs. One wonders whether any lab can be found that is considered both neutral and unbiased. I haven't heard anything from the Zeller-Bloomberg-Glantz crowd on Wagener's study.

In any case, I have some questions for Professor Wagener and others who run replicatory studies. The published findings only report on youngsters whose first nicotine product was an e-cig. What about those whose first nicotine product was a combustible cigarette, but who also vaped later? There must have been at least a few. Hapless victims of the dread "dual use". What did they go on to do later? First they tried a burning cig, then they maybe tried an e-cig, and after that either continued with both (gasp!), or they quit the e-cigs and went back to exclusive use of real coffin nails, or they quit the combustibles and went on to use only e-cigs, which they either stuck with or quit. I hope we can get statistics on these groups from the replicatory studies by Wagener and his colleagues.

Also, the term "nicotine product" (rather than "cigarette or e-cigarette") is used in reporting the fact that the 42 are no longer smoking. Or vaping? Could they now be vaping e-cigs with non-nicotine liquids? It's not clear and it would be interesting to know.

So best wishes for Professor Wagener's health this holiday season. One hopes he's not tied to a chair in a back room of the New York or Chicago City Council, with a bright light shining in his eyes and water dripping on his forehead. Happy Holidays, Prof, and keep up the info stream.