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Vaping-bashers spin data crazy – again!

"There are 3 kinds of lies," said Mark Twain, "lies, damned lies, and statistics." The search for data that depicts the alleged evils of vaping seems a never-ending quest. A Time Magazine article reporting on a study done at the University of California at San Diego, and written up in the scientific journal Tobacco Control, headlines with an alleged link between vaping and mental disorders, when in fact a close reading of the study report shows findings of a different character.

The headline reads: "The weird link between e-cigarettes and mental health disorders" and a sub-headline continues: "A new study finds elevated rates of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders among users of e-cigarettes," sounding like proof that vapers are crazy. In fact, the finding is not about vapers in general, but about smokers who are attempting to quit through vaping, and it shows that the ratio of anxious individuals to serene people in that population is about the same as among smokers generally.

"Smoking prevalence for individuals with mental health conditions is estimated to be about 70% higher than for those without" (Tobacco Control). The conditions highlighted in the study are primarily depression and anxiety disorder, with other conditions comprising about 8% (of current smokers in the study population). It should come as no surprise that there is a higher proportion of anxious people among smokers.

In the study population, 14.8% with such disorders had tried e-cigs, and 6.6% without such disorders had done so, about the same ratio as that between anxious smokers to serene smokers, yet this is the finding that Time reports as an indication that vapers tend to suffer from disorders. In the study population, 7.5% were vapers who smoked until recently and had a history of such disorders, and 5.5% were vapers who smoked until recently but do not have such a history.

In other words, these are people involved in a successful (so far) cessation attempt involving vaping, and here the ratio of anxious to serene is closer to parity. This would imply that a slightly higher proportion of quitters have been non-anxious smokers, rather than anxious smokers. The total here suggests that 13% of the study population is in the midst of a vaping-based quit attempt that is going well, with about 3/5ths of them anxious and about 2/5ths of them serene. Hardly a suggestion that the community of vapers is deranged!

The study concludes: "...individuals with MHC ("mental health conditions", in particular depression and anxiety) are more likely to try e-cigarettes, to be current users of e-cigarettes, and to be susceptible to future use of e-cigarettes. This study also showed that individuals with MHC were more likely to smoke cigarettes than those without MHC, which is consistent with earlier research in the field." In other words it shows that more anxious and depressed people smoke, and that more of them use vaping to quit smoking, in about the same proportions, and it makes no claim about the mental health of the vaping community at large. The Time article is a classic example of a distorted journalistic spin on data with the goal of casting aspersions on the vaping community.