Public health

UK attack on academics over vaping evidence “petty”

The UK’s health agency has accused three tobacco control experts of making a “series of factual errors” in evidence to the Australian government’s vaping inquiry.

The claims have been levelled against Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman and Dr Becky Freeman, from the University of Sydney’s school of public health, and National Heart Foundation WA CEO Maurice Swanson, who gave evidence at the House of Representatives’ inquiry into e-cigarettes hearing in September (see our coverage here).

Public Health England (PHE) has signaled its desire to “correct the record” on a number of points.

In a letter to the inquiry, the agency claims comments made by Professor Chapman that the UK takes a dominant clinical approach to tobacco control and has been very slow to adopt population-focused measures “conflicts with the evidence”.

PHE also took aim at the Sydney tobacco control advocate over his criticism of the statistic that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than cigarettes – a figure arrived at by the authors of its 2015 independent review of evidence.

Professor Chapman told the inquiry the oft-cited stat had come under questioning, not least because it was arrived at by a vote by 12 handpicked people, several of whom had “zero track record in tobacco control” or “ties with tobacco companies into the past”.

“The main problem with that estimate is that even the group who came up with it said: ‘A limitation of this study is the lack of hard evidence for the harms of most products on most of the criteria’,” he told the limbic.

He said given e-cigarettes have only been in widespread use for a few years, it was far too early to know what the risks were.

But PHE said the 95% was an ‘estimate of relative risk’ based on the authors’ assessment of international peer-reviewed evidence.

A comment made by WA Heart Foundation boss Maurice Swanson suggesting Europe’s approach to regulation of e-cigarettes is “completely different” to the UK was also incorrect, the agency writes, as all regulation across all EU members is governed under one directive with only minor discretion allowed.

Dr Becky Freeman, who was admonished for incorrectly describing a study as “latest” evidence, told the limbic the complaint against her  was “incredibly trivial”.

“I should have said ‘recent’, not ‘latest’. I clearly did not set out to mislead or deceive.”

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