Opponents of nicotine vapor products like to claim the scientific high ground.
For years, they have asserted there isn’t enough evidence on the long-term risks associated with e-cigarettes or their effectiveness for smoking cessation. But, even as evidence supporting the relative safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes emerged, opponents balked. Each study was dismissed for having flaws, limitations, or authors with real or imagined conflicts of interest. They suddenly forget their commitment to high quality evidence when it comes to studies that say what opponents want to hear.
On August 11, researchers from Stanford University published the results of an online survey about youth tobacco use and self-reported COVID-19 symptoms and tests. Open online surveys with anonymous participants are inherently unreliable, especially on topics as controversial as youth vaping that can attract “cheaters” hoping to influence the results. Nonetheless, surveys of this type can still provide some insight, but only if the study authors are honest about these limitations That does not seem to be what happened, in this case. As Stanford’s press release noted and numerous media outlets repeated (apparently without reading the study), participants who said they ever used e-cigarettes were five times more likely to report testing positive for COVID-19, and those who reported both ever vaping and ever smoking were seven times more likely test positive than those who said they never used tobacco. But their conclusions make little sense based on what they reported.
First off, the study reports finding an association between “ever” use but no association with recent e-cigarette use and testing positive for COVID-19. Why would, say, taking a hit off a friend’s Juul a year ago put people at greater risk of contracting the virus than would, say, daily e-cigarette use? The authors offer no real answer for this implausible finding. Assuming the results aren’t completely bogus, one plausible explanation could be that people inclined to experiment with tobacco products are more inclined toward risk-taking in general—they may be less likely to adhere to social distancing and more likely to engage in behaviors that increase risk of contracting COVID-19.
Michelle Minton – Competitive Enterprise Institute – August 27, 2020.