Time to Retract Debunked Vaping Heart Attack Study

One cornerstone of the anti-vaper argument is that vaping may have a number of unforeseen dangers. One commonly cited danger is an increased threat of heart attack.

The study that supposedly demonstrated the connection between vaping and heart attacks has now been debunked, and a more detailed analysis of the data found that “vapers were much less likely to have had a heart attack, not twice as likely.”

Kind of a big mistake. How did this happen? Looks like another zombie vaping myth has been debunked. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know how many smokers decided not to switch to vaping after reading the headlines. It is almost impossible to unring the bell of fear.

Bhatta and Glantz Study

The basis of the vaping-heart attack claim, which dominated mainstream media headlines for a few days after it was released, was a study by Dharma N. Bhatta and Stanton A. Glantz.

The study, titled “Electronic cigarette use and myocardial infarction among adults in the US Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health”, was seized on by anti-vapers as proof that e-cigarettes not only pose a variety of unseen risks, but are a tangible threat to your cardiovascular health.

But it turns out that the study that has served as the foundation of this statement is so shoddy that even the former science director for the anti-vaping Truth Initiative found the study to be extremely suspect.

As reported by the USA Today, Dr. Ray Niaura reanalyzed the Glantz study linking vaping and heart attacks and said, “"we don’t find evidence for a relationship." 

Niaura also questioned Glantz’s claims that e-cigarettes create “ultra-fine” particles that “are dangerous and cause heart attacks.” Niaura argued that the vapor created by e-cigs is not air pollution and are generally considered safe.

Brad Rodu, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Louisville, has been even more outspoken and has called for a retraction of the study. He personally dismantled the shoddy study.

In a letter to the Journal of the American Heart Association, he described the findings of the authors to be false and invalid. More scathingly, he described their analysis as, “An indefensible breach of any reasonable standard for research on association of causation.”

Rodu has dismantled flawed anti-vaping studies before. He worked with Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos to debunk the toxic metals in e-cig vapor study.  

Heart Attacks Preceded Vaping By a Decade on Average

The Bhatta and Glantz study reported that e-cig users were twice as likely to have a heart attack when compared to those who abstain from vaping. But this conclusion was completely off-base because they failed to account for the fact that over half of the “heart attack” cohort had suffered heart attacks long before they ever vaped.

How long before? “In this group, the heart attacks preceded the first e-cigarette use by almost a decade.”

This obviously skewed the results. One question that may never be answered is why such a huge mistake was made? Were the authors of the debunked e-cig heart disease study being intentionally obtuse, fabricating results to confirm their biases or was it a glaring mistake?

The study gave plenty of ammunition to opponents of vaping, and San Francisco’s chief economist freely conceded that a vape ban means more smoking.

Rodu reproduced the analysis, after accounting for the fact that fully half of the reported heart attacks had occurred before e-cigarettes were ever consumed. “In short, vapers were much less likely to have a heart attack, not twice as likely.”

Michael Blaha, the director of clinical research at John Hopkin’s Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, also defended vaping as an alternative to cigarettes. He pointed out there is no high-quality evidence of a link between vaping and heart attacks, and he does not object to patients who wish to switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigs.

Playing The Tobacco Shill Card

Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and the Truth Initiative Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control, was quick to muddy the waters with accusations against Rodu. Although forced to concede his study was underpowered, he pointed out that he was a “for real rocket scientist” and called Rodu a tobacco industry apologist. Outside of the distinguished halls of academia, this might be considered a non sequitur.

The shill gambit always a misdirection in scientific circles, usually used to wave off inconvenient studies and evidence that flies in the face of deeply held beliefs. It is a favorite of conspiracy theorists. It is unfortunate that Glantz would stoop so low as to ape the language of the most obscurantist and anti-scientific elements of the population.

Leave the shill accusations to Flat-Earthers and Chemtrailers. Let your work stand or fall on its own merits.

Conflict of Interest?

While Rodu’s employer, the University of Louisville, receives unrestricted grants from the tobacco industry, the obvious question is how cigarette companies benefit if he is able to defend the safety of vaping.

Nor is it unusual for companies in a specific industry to fund research that expands the relevant scientific base of knowledge for that industry. This is especially true of pharmaceutical companies, who are the most common target of the “shill gambit”.  

Big tobacco retains a relatively small foot print in the vaping industry, with the exception of Altria’s stake in Juul. The tobacco industry would benefit if vaping was banned and the FDA approved IQOS was the only game in town. This is why Altria supports a flavor ban that would decimate the independent vaping industry.

Smoking rates are plunging and a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine Study found that vaping was twice as effective as nicotine replacement for smoking cessation.

As long as the shill card is on the table, as the Distinguished Professor for an anti-vaping lobbying group, Glantz’s motives should also be called into question. And as long as guilt by association is the currency of the realm, Glantz works for a university in San Francisco.

The San Francisco E-Cig Ban betrays the city’s tradition of harm reduction. A liberal stronghold that is viewed as a bastion of LGBTQ+ rights, San Francisco is punishing marginalized groups by denying them access to cigarette alternatives.