Conflict of Interest

Vaper’s Vortex

September 25, 2015

“A situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person [or bureaucracy] because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s [or bureaucracy’s] self-interest and professional interest or public interest.”

The recent report by Public Health England (PHE) stating that e-cigarettes are “around 95% less harmful” than smoking made headlines around the world.

The full report, authored by Professor Ann McNeill of King’s College London and Peter Hajek, of Queen Mary University, London, is 111 pages and contains 185 references. Ten days after the release of PHE’s report, the medical journal Lancet published a critical editorial in which Lancet states the PHE report:

“… is made all the more perilous by the declared conflicts of interest surrounding its funding, raises serious questions not only about the conclusions of the PHE report, but also about the quality of the agency’s peer review process.”

One of the studies referenced in the PHE report, and the focus of the Lancet editorial, was performed by twelve experts, from six countries, and included a behavioral pharmacologist (who was Past President, Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco), medical doctors (including Chair of the South African Medical Association and Past President of the World Medical Association), an attorney with more than 30 years’ experience in tobacco control, an eminent toxicologist, and others with extensive publications on nicotine and tobacco. The study was published in European Addiction Research and clearly stated that it was:

“… funded by Euroswiss Health and supported by Lega Italiana Anti Fumo.” (LIAF is the Italian Anti-Smoking League).

So Lancet’s position is that PHE’s report should be discredited based on a single study where two of the twelve authors had an alleged conflict of interest. The “conflict” in the form of support for the study that was provided by an anti-smoking organization. On that basis, Lancet contends that findings of the study are “perilous”, the conclusions “raise serious questions”, and PHE’s peer review process lacks “quality”.

McNeill and Hajek

“The Lancet believes that the message smokers can benefit from switching to vaping is an undesirable one.”

“Current evidence indicates that smokers who switch from smoking to e-cigarettes reduce the risks to their health dramatically. We believe this needs to be communicated and that undermining this message will keep smokers smoking and dying as a result.”


“We are disappointed The Lancet fails to highlight the other important findings in the review, including the worrying shift among smokers toward the inaccurate perception that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking tobacco.”

Konstantinos Farsalinos

“What the Lancet implies is that 2 of the 12 authors of the Nutt paper framed everyone else into creating a biased document to support their financial interests. That is insulting not only for the two authors mentioned (one by name) but also for the others. Of note, all authors in the Nutt paper were among the most active researchers in tobacco smoking (which Lancet seems to ignore). And of course they based their conclusions on evidence, as was PHE.”

British Heart Foundation

Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the BHF: “This comprehensive review of the evidence sends a clear message that switching to e-cigarettes will be far less harmful than continuing to smoke – a habit that will kill one out of every two long-term smokers.”

“Good quality evidence like this is crucial if we’re to see a further drop in the number of people smoking in the UK.”

Cancer Research UK

Professor Linda Bauld: “Fears that e-cigarettes have made smoking seem normal again, or even led to people taking up tobacco smoking, are not so far being realised based on the evidence assessed by this important independent review.” 

“In fact, the overall evidence points to e-cigarettes actually helping people to give up smoking tobacco.”

Action on Smoking and Health

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive: “However, if every smoker switched overnight to electronic cigarettes many hundreds of thousands of premature deaths would be prevented in the years to come.”

The UK’s Faculty on Public Health

“And yet, millions of smokers have the impression that e-cigarettes are at least as harmful as tobacco and we have a responsibility to provide clear information on the facts as we know them to be. It is our duty to provide reassurance for the 1.1 million e-cigarette users who have completely stopped smoking to prevent their relapse.”

“We should not forget what is important here. We know that smoking is the number one killer in England and we have a public health responsibility to provide smokers with the information and the tools to help them quit smoking completely and forever.”

Public Health England is the first high level government agency in the world to unequivocally endorse electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco. They have taken the lead in educating the world about what may well be the most important public health breakthrough of the 21st century.

Scrambling for something, anything in the way of rebuttal, the best the Lancet could come up with was a “conflict of interest” accusation. The irony is that the e-cigarette debate is entirely about conflicts of interest. Public health’s money, power, prestige, stature, respect, credibility vs. simply saving lives.

People don’t like being deceived and manipulated. PHE decided it was time for people to hear the truth. As we know it to be. At this point in time.

What does that say about the many factions in public health, politics and the media who find the truth to be a conflict of interest?

We are sincerely interested in your thoughts and comments! Please join the conversation and invite others by sharing this post! Thank you for visiting our site and we hope that you will come back often!

Dave Coggin has a Master’s Degree in business and spent 35 years in corporate America. He is a co-founder and partner in DIYELS. He has spent the last five years actively researching and following the evolution of the e-cigarette industry. He is a strong proponent of e-cigarettes as the most promising option currently known for tobacco harm reduction. He may be contacted directly at .

The opinions presented here are exclusively those of the author. Vaper’s Vortex is offered as a service to our customers and followers. Anyone considering e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes should seek qualified advice from a medical professional.

4 thoughts on “Conflict of Interest

  1. Dave Coggin says:

    Very good point Jordan. But I think there is a pressing need to move from “assuming” bias (or lack of) to “proving” bias (or lack of). The Nutt study that the Lancet criticizes was well done, quite detailed, and totally transparent up to and including the source of funding for the study. They did not make outrageous claims that conflicted with the data they examined. The suggestion that the report was biased because it benefitted the vaping industry is unfounded. As is suggesting a study funded by the CDC is unbiased because it benefits Big Pharma. It’s time to stop pointing fingers and get down to the business of improving public health.

  2. Ivor says:

    Thanks for posting the info Dave.

    It scares me a little to think that the public debate about vaping seems so effortlessly side-tracked of what I consider to be more than enough reason for almost any smoker to switch to vaping instantly. Right now. At least try it.
    I agree that vaping is not 100% safe, partly because NOTHING is 100% safe if you take too much of it (like water, oxygen, caffeine. sugar, etc.).
    Smoking (burning tobacco), on the other hand, is guaranteed to be harmful (100%, actually) as it contains around 7000 thousand different chemicals (!), of which a few are variously addictive, carcinogenic, and toxic. Oh and it smells bad, costs lots, and gets in your eyes a lot. Nicotine is addictive, but does not appear to be carcinogenic or a toxic by itself like in vaping (unless you drink the stuff, in which case it can of course be poisonous in large quantities or high concentrations).
    I get that the jury is out at this stage about vaping, as long-term side effects are unclear and no current data proves vaping is harmless in the long run. It seems pretty stupidly obvious though that vaping appears harmless in the short-run though (like up to 10 years), and that all data to date do appear to suggest that it will likely be found to be pretty harmless. But yep, we have to wait for 10-30 years to pass to be 100% sure.
    To me, a person who has smoked around 20 cigarettes per day over the last 27 years, trying everything I could find to give them up, that chance of potential harm REALLY doesn’t matter that much. I mean it.
    I think vaping needs to be regulated, sure, but not banned. No way.
    I’d rather have a vape.

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