Medical journal retracts ‘vaping causes heart attacks’ for being ‘unreliable’

The American Heart Association (AHA) and researcher Stanton Glantz are both under fire this week after a federally-funded anti-vaping study was retracted by a prominent medical journal.  The study published by the AHA, co-authored by Glantz, and widely reported upon by mainstream media incited national panic last summer by falsely claiming that “vaping causes heart attacks.” Academics are now calling for a federal review of previous AHA/Glantz research collaborations.

When originally published in early June 2019, tobacco control experts like Dr. Brad Rodu of the University of Kentucky and Dr. Michael; Siegel of Boston University were immediately and publicly critical.  They claimed that the Glantz research team failed to use proper scientific protocols during their experimental analysis.  In a letter to the American Heart Association and fellow tobacco control experts at the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa, and Boston University, Rodu blasts the AHA/Glantz publication for its inaccuracies.

“The authors used the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Wave 1 survey restricted dataset. But they failed to account for detailed information in that survey on (a) when participants were first told that they had a heart attack and (b) when participants first started using e-cigarettes. In fact, the majority (2) of the 38 current e-cigarette users were first told that they had a heart attack many years before they first started using e-cigarettes. In this group, the heart attacks preceded first e-cigarette use by almost a decade on average.”

The retracted study originally published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) and conducted by Glantz at the University of California was funded by a $20 million grant by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.  On Wednesday, the JAHA issued an official retraction including the statement, "The editors are concerned that the study conclusion is unreliable.”

Related Article: Brad Rodu completely annihilates ‘vaping causes heart attacks’ study

Furthermore, it was Glantz’s untrue assertions that vaping doubles the risks of heart attacks and seizures that was instrumental in the City of San Francisco becoming the first major metropolitan area in the country to implement a citywide vaping ban.  Like Rodu, Siegel not only admonished Glantz for his bogus research at the time, but he also rebuked San Francisco lawmakers for basing their decision to ban vaping on a paper that was not positively peer-reviewed by the academic community.   

“There are two major problems here.
The first is that the unsupported, and now debunked, conclusions of the study have influenced many policy makers in their decision to ban the sale of e-cigarettes (while leaving real cigarettes on the shelves, which do cause heart attacks). For example, before voting to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in San Francisco, city council members were told that e-cigarettes are associated with heart attacks.”
It is irresponsible to use the results of this cross-sectional study to conclude (or even suggest) that e-cigarette use increases heart attack or stroke risk. Why? Because the study only assessed the relationship between "ever" having used e-cigarettes and "ever" having had a heart attack. The study has no information on which came first. In other words, it is entirely possible (and in fact quite likely) that the majority of respondents who reported having used e-cigarettes and having had a heart attack actually suffered the heart attack first and then subsequently started using electronic cigarettes because they were desperate to quit smoking after experiencing this life-threatening event.”

Advocates of vaping as a safer and heathier alternative to smoking are supportive of the JAHA’s decision to retract.  However, the damage to the public perception of vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool may already be done. Rodu told Vice Magazine on Wednesday, “A retraction is not a trivial matter.  It's a significant action. Saying it was a mistake is too weak." On Twitter, Glantz is still standing by his now debunked report.

Related Article:  Siegel: Glantz told SF lawmakers told (wrongly) that vaping causes heart attacks

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