But it needs to be called out. The only kind of response to a supposedly legit study in a medical journal that will be taken seriously by the readers of the journal is one from experts. Luckily, some academics are not rabid anti-vaping ideologues. A couple of sympathetic researchers have teamed up to respond directly to the journal with a letter that was published in the online edition last week.
The response came from Riccardo Polosa and Amelia Howard. Polosa, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Catania in Italy, has done several studies on vaping himself. Howard studies the sociology of technology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. Her research is focused on vape technology, the market, and the effects of policy on innovation.
“The results of the recent cross-sectional survey by Krishnan-Sarin et al. should not be interpreted as evidence that youth are ‘dripping’ in high numbers,” write Polosa and Howard. “The concept is inadequately defined and it’s likely that many or most respondents misunderstood a poorly constructed questionnaire item.
“‘Refilling’ was highlighted in the survey’s definition of e-cigarettes, yet ‘dripping method’ seems left to interpretation. It’s unlikely that the question ‘Have you ever used the dripping method to add e-liquid to your e-cigarette?’ isolated device-specific dripping: first, ‘dripping’ not ‘the dripping method’ is the typical way to refer to adding droplets of liquid to early atomizers or RDAs; second, all refillable devices are filled by adding e-liquid with a ‘dripping method.’
“We believe students counted as ‘dripping’ had instead refilled a device or tried one they’d seen refilled. And given the obviousness of a ‘dripping method’ in a refilling context, we believe the question likely confused many respondents. This could explain why 25.2% of the sample reported, ‘I don’t know’…. Given the study’s weak translation of the specific dripping practice, and substantial oversight of the ubiquitous practice of refilling with dropper bottles, results don’t indicate youth are ‘dripping’ in the specific sense. Though we’d emphasize that if they were, there’s no reason to assume this is any more or less risky than using other types of e-cigarettes.”
Howard and Polosa hit the nail on the head. The survey question was stupid, which makes the answers to it worthless. Elsewhere in their letter, they give the original authors a short history lesson on dripping, explaining that it’s not a new phenomenon at all, but something that’s been around almost since the beginning of vaping.
The fact that a study like this was pursued by Yale researchers, approved and funded by the NIH, published in Pediatrics, and accepted as true by every news outlet from coast to coast, illustrates the sorry state of research on vaping. The prevailing point of view is that it’s something distasteful, to be discouraged, and that it doesn’t even deserve to be studied by people who follow the normal standards expected of research.
Now the study’s authors will probably respond to the Howard/Polosa letter. Will they realize their errors and accept this valid criticism? Or will they blow it off and stand by their ridiculous paper? Take a wild guess.